Articles

Innovation on Trial: Punitive Damages Versus New Products

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Science  15 Dec 1989:
Vol. 246, Issue 4936, pp. 1395-1399
DOI: 10.1126/science.246.4936.1395

Abstract

Innovation, scientific discovery transformed into valuable products, is a powerful asset for the United States in today's global economy, but it is being put on trial by the U.S. product liability system. Strict liability and huge jury awards, bloated by the uncontrolled imposition of punitive damages, have led to a proliferation of lawsuits, which in turn has created immense legal uncertainty for innovators who want to create new products. Because a high level of legal uncertainty and scientific innovation cannot coexist, new, safe products may be kept off the market and the scope of research and development restricted. Punitive damages constitute the driving force behind this problem, and both judges and legislators should aim at bringing them under control with legal reforms.