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Tort Reform and Accidental Deaths

Wednesday November 2005


Paul H. Rubin Professor, Emory University, Department of Economics and School of Law
Joanna M. Shepherd Professor, Emory University, School of Law

The vast expansion of American tort law since the 1960s had its genesis, in part, in academic theory. Legal scholars suggested that litigation could reduce the cost of accidents by forcing businesses to internalize the social costs they imposed through faulty products and services.

Manhattan Institute scholar Peter Huber, in his path-breaking book Liability, argued that these simple theories failed to hold up in practice and that, in fact, the liability explosion had reduced safety by punishing the most innovative, cutting-edge technologies.

This fall, Emory University’s Paul Rubin, a leading law and economics scholar, and Joanna Shepherd, one of the nation’s top young legal empiricists, have released the results of their study that for the first time tackles this empirical question in a comprehensive way. Rubin’s and Shepherd’s paper finds that, in general, tort reforms are associated with a reduction in accidental deaths, consistent with Huber’s hypothesis.