Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Jennifer H. Arlen
Chapter 20: The empirical effects of tort reform
Tort reforms enacted in response to asserted crises date back to the 1970s, yet several factors have complicated assessing their effects. Possible effects should initially be separated into two components: (1) observable effects within the legal system, such as lawsuit filings, case outcomes, and punitive damages patterns; and (2) observable effects on primary behavior, such as whether obstetricians changed their practices in response to tort law changes. These effects require separate data and analysis. With respect to effects within the legal system, no systematic database exists that allows reliable estimates of the effect of tort reform. A fundamental problem is that fully assessing the effects requires accounting for settlement, the modal outcome of tort litigation. Yet systematic data on settlements do not exist. Beyond this, the available data on trial outcomes also is limited. It is often incomplete or filtered through biased sources, and rarely includes data on post-trial settlements or appeals. So comparing the legal system before and after reform enactments depends on ad hoc studies and cannot be done by monitoring existing data sets.
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