The International Lawyer


This article’s objective is to introduce U.S.-based practitioners to European civil-law perspectives on whether U.S. punitive damages awards are enforceable in their jurisdictions. After a brief review concerning the birth of punitive damages within common law, valuable to better understand their cultural and legal significance, this article will outline how the prominent European jurisdictions — France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland — have dealt with the enforcement of U.S. punitive damages awards. Through each jurisdiction’s policy principles and relevant law, this article aims to afford U.S.-based practitioners initial tips and litigation strategies about how to maximize their chances of enforcing a U.S.-obtained judgment in one of the analyzed foreign jurisdictions.

In a globalized world, interconnected largely through international transactions, disagreements about punitive damages can no longer be treated merely as a product of history or culture. This difference impacts how (and if) transnational disputes are resolved. When a defendant is foreign, or when a defendant’s assets are abroad, U.S.-based attorneys must be aware of the current European trends about the enforcement of United States punitive damages awards when assessing civil litigation strategies. In preparing a litigation plan, lawyers must remain mindful of their clients’ primary interest: not to obtain a favorable judgment, which is nothing more than a legal fiction, but to secure from that judgment an actual, tangible result that can be obtained only through governmental enforcement mechanisms. Absent the prospect of enforcement, a judgment with no execution is nothing more than an expensive piece of paper.