Many people believe that nearly all lawsuits will end in huge verdicts. Sadly the media coverage of a few large verdicts around the country have been severely misleading to the general public. When people take a lawsuit that involves hundreds of hours of attorney's putting together all of the facts, sifting through what is most helpful for their respective sides, and then spend several days or weeks even presenting it to a jury, the outcome of the trial is usually a just one.
The media will sometimes spend several hundred words explaining what is really the highest points of both sides arguments. Often they take the most sensational facts (often out of context) to get the most clicks, likes, links, or comments. The media, like all other businesses, are trying to make money. They do so by selling advertising. Advertisers want to get as many eyeballs on their advertisements so the more views articles bring the more companies want to put their products on that page. A five million dollar verdict for a bad paint job on your new car would certainly grab some headlines and loads of people would click to read the first few sentences. What the headlines don't say is that 90% or more of that verdict was for punitive damages.
Punitive damages are not supposed to compensate the Plaintiff for their losses. Punitive damages are intended to punish the Defendants for particularly egregious conduct.
In Tennessee, punitive damages are only allowed where there is clear and convincing evidence of fraud, intentional misconduct, recklessness, or malicious acts. The damages are assessed by the jury in an amount based on the size of the defendant company, their revenues, the extent of the misconduct, and other relevant evidence. A company that makes $400 billion a day would not be punished by a $10,000 verdict, but $5 million would at least send a message. People who were severely injured as a result of someone's intentional or reckless conduct will be compensated for their losses. The jury would then be able to assess punitive damages as well. Some people believe the punitive damages should go to the court, the state, or some government entity. Perhaps a charity organization so the money could do a large amount of good. But there are load of other issues that would arise. So until there is a better way, any punitive damages go to the injured party.