In The Exxon Valdez Litigation Marathon: A Window on Punitive Damages, Cathy Sharkey (NYU) notes that the Court, acting
akin to a common law court under federal admiralty jurisdiction, provided a template for lower courts to follow. "Free
of constitutional constraints, the Court diagnoses the problem with
punitive damages - unpredictability - and propose a solution: a 1:1
ratio of punitive to compensatory damages." Similar to others, however, Sharkey criticizes the Court's analysis and considers three problems in the punitive damages area that loom.
"First, the Court’s fixation on unpredictability can be linked with a broader trend in the Court’s jurisprudence of circumscribing the role of the civil jury in the name of certainty, predictability, and efficiency. Second, the Court had before it a case in a unique procedural posture: the plaintiffs were part of a “limited fund,” mandatory, non-opt out class action for resolution of punitive damages only. Because that element of the case was not appealed to the Court, the Court left for another day resolution of the classwide determination of punitive damages. Third, the Court’s quest for a national solution to the punitive damages problem and its equation of punitive damages and criminal fines presage impending federalism battles. By elevating a single punitive damages goal - that of retributive punishment - the Court sets the stage for a clash with state courts and legislatures who might be inspired to define their legitimate state interests in punitive damages differently."