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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Bedbugs And Punitive Damages

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Bedbugs and punitive damages make, as they say, strange bedfellows. However, over at The Benjo Blog there is an extensive quotation from a federal circuit court opinion in a bedbug case that educates us all on the rationale for punitive damages. The excerpt below is just a teaser – the full quotation is worth a side trip.

Posner on Punitive Damages

We must consider why punitive damages are awarded and why the [Supreme] Court has decided that due process requires that such awards be limited….

The (hotel) defendant’s behavior was outrageous but the compensable harm done was slight and at the same time difficult to quantify because a large element of it was emotional. And the defendant may well have profited from its misconduct because by concealing the infestation it was able to keep renting rooms. Refunds were frequent but may have cost less than the cost of closing the hotel for a thorough fumigation. The hotel’s attempt to pass off the bedbugs as ticks, which some guests might ignorantly have thought less unhealthful, may have postponed the instituting of litigation to rectify the hotel’s misconduct. The award of punitive damages in this case thus serves the additional purpose of limiting the defendant’s ability to profit from its fraud by escaping detection and (private) prosecution. If a tortfeasor is “caught” only half the time he commits torts, then when he is caught he should be punished twice as heavily in order to make up for the times he gets away.

Mathias v. Accor Economy Lodging, Inc., 347 F.3d 672, 676-677 (7th. Cir. 2003)