Professional Document Translation for In-House Counsel and Litigators

Defining Punitive Damages in the EU

Legal Document Translations for In-House Counsel and Litigators

Earlier we’ve blogged about legal document translation services for enforcing U.S. judgments in Europe and cross-border litigation.  Professional written translation services certainly play an important role in defining punitive damages in the EU.  The European courts consider punitive damages contrary to public policy and, thus, do not allow them. This is because, according to customary European civil practice, the purpose of a civil suit is to seek compensation, not punishment. This becomes an issue in cases where a U.S. court awards a judgment of punitive damages against a European defendant and where the plaintiff, unsuccessfully, attempts to have the judgment enforced in a European court.

The key to trying to collect punitive damages in Europe is to define the damages in a manner that does not fall into the court’s definition. According to the EU courts,
damages are typically punitive in nature when:

  •     They lack rationale and thus make it impossible to identify the specific losses the  U.S. court intended to compensate.
  •     The large sum of the award is incomparable to sums already obtained.
  •     The wrongdoer has a particular professional quality that makes it more prone to punishment. Manufacturers are a common example.

With these in mind, when seeking an award of damages before a European Court, it is essential to frame the petition in terms that read to be compensatory as opposed to punitive in nature. To accomplish this, a foreign language translation, done by a foreign language translator familiar with the legal language of both the foreign and U.S. court, is essential.

See Corte app. Venezia, 15 Oct. 201, n.1359, Giur. It. II 2002, 1021.

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