Lloyd's Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly

Punitive damages and “cause of action restrictions”

Eleni Katsampouka *

This article examines “cause of action restrictions” on the jurisdiction to award punitive damages. These are restrictions on the recoverability of punitive damages that are imposed solely by reference to the cause of action in which 
the claimant sues. The article focuses on the unavailability of punitive damages for equitable wrongs and breach of contract. Equity and contract have been selected for examination because each represents an important part of private law and because introducing punitive damages in these areas is contentious. The article examines the reasons for the disallowance of punitive damages in contract and equity and argues that they are unconvincing. It further explores the benefits of introducing punitive damages in these areas. It is concluded that punitive damages awards should be available for all civil wrongs irrespective of their origin (equity, contract or tort).


This article considers whether “cause of action restrictions” survive in the English law of punitive (or exemplary) damages despite the demise of the “cause of action test” (otherwise known as the “pre-1964 test”). It also examines whether such restrictions, to the extent that they survive, are justified. Punitive damages are damages the purpose of which is not to compensate the victim of a wrong, which is the usual function of damages, but to punish the wrongdoer.1 By the term “cause of action restrictions”, I mean the preclusion of punitive damages for certain wrongs simply on the basis that the award is unavailable for the cause of action in which the claimant sues.

Punitive damages and cause of action restrictions


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