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Sorry, I think you miss a lot about the motivation and understanding behind such news items - even though you start sneering at the right point:

  • "American jury system is a crazy lottery": This is actually close to what they're saying. But "lottery" would imply that you can win or lose, while the image conveyed here tells you there are *ALWAYS* big amounts to be paid.
  • I don't think German news link this very much to the jury system.
  • And it never occurred to me that this should be a sob-story for the poor corporations milked, I think the nature of the defendant doesn't matter here for the German audience. And btw, a tobacco giant doesn't make a good underdog for public sympathy even in Germany.
  • And you're not saying "am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen" (no reflexive verb here) is the point the BBC is going to make, are you. As a matter of fact, German non-lawyers are not very likely to be proud of the German legal system - not because it has so bad a reputation, but because lawyers and jurisdiction are always somewhat toxic and strange to the man in the street. So the scheduled reaction is "Thank God they are not like this over here so far" rather than "we would have done better".
  • Yes, frequently the weirdness exotic nature of such giant sums is the main point of the news. And no, here it isn't: Tobacco industry is a specific topic, and it is an open question whether or how hard governments can or should tackle them for the sake of health protection. So this is also a showcase: Look what others are doing about it.

But now for the actual contents, since I'm eager to learn something about this.

"punitive damages are rarely awarded"/"Most punitive damage awards are modest in amount":
That's hardly relevant for this case since, you know, it was indeed awarded here.
The Spiegel article you linked to features the headline "Reynolds to pay xxx to widow" rather than "American corporations to pay another round of billion dollar verdicts this year". I haven't come across a single line in browsing the news about this case that implies that this is a normal case.

What's more important: Obviously, punitive damages can be awarded by American courts in astronomic amounts, theoretically and practically. Didn't that come across correctly?

As to the most important point:
"No, the tobacco company will of course never have to pay the $23.6 billion verdict. An appeals court, following rules laid down by the American Supreme Court, will reduce it to a tiny fraction of that size. "
So - what's the point in awarding it then in the first place?
Does that imply that you are actually forced to appeal to the Supreme Court, so that some verdicts aren't even supposed to be final?
That's news to me, and an interesting point (doesn't that defeat the whole concept of a 'verdict'?).
This actually may be the point of confusion that hardly anybody outside the US understands. And considering it, I see a large part of the fault for this confusion on the side of this weird system.


Not sure if you believe in some "Bildungsauftrag" of your blog - but it worked for me.

I saw the "billions in compensation" headlines and thought of the explanation you gave about this part of US American jurisdiction in the past :)

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