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The Effect of Electoral Institutions on Tort Awards

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  • Eric Helland

    (Claremont McKenna College)

  • Alexander Taberrok

    (The Independent Institute)

Abstract

Politicians are not neutral maximizers of the public good, they respond to incentives just like other individuals. We apply the same reasoning to those politicians in robes called judges. We argue that elected judges, particularly partisan elected judges, have an incentive to redistribute wealth from out-of-state defendants (non-voters) to instate plaintiffs (voters). The partisan electoral hypothesis is tested first using data on 75,000 tort awards from across the states. We control for differences in injuries, state incomes, poverty levels, selection effects and other factors that may cause awards to differ across the states. One difference which appears difficult to control for is that each state has its own body of tort law. We take advantage of a peculiar aspect of American Federalism to make this distinction. In cases involving citizens of different states, aptly called diversity of citizenship cases, Federal judges apply state law to decide disputes. Diversity of citizenship cases allow us to test whether differences in awards are caused by differences in electoral systems or differences in state law. The evidence from the cross-state regressions and from the diversity of citizenship cases, strongly supports the partisan election hypothesis. In cases involving out-of-state defendants and in-state plaintiffs the average award (conditional on winning) is 42% higher in partisan than in non-partisan states; approximately 2/3 rds of the larger award is due to a bias against out-of-state defendants and the remainder due to generally higher awards against businesses in partisan states.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Claremont Colleges in its series Claremont Colleges Working Papers with number 1999-07.

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Handle: RePEc:clm:clmeco:1999-07

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  1. Heckman, James J, 1979. "Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 153-61, January.
  2. Kornhauser, Lewis A & Revesz, Richard L, 1994. "Multidefendant Settlements: The Impact of Joint and Several Liability," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(1), pages 41-76, January.
  3. Waldfogel, Joel, 1995. "The Selection Hypothesis and the Relationship between Trial and Plaintiff Victory," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(2), pages 229-60, April.
  4. Eric Helland & Alexander Taberrok, . "Runaway Judges? Selection Effects and the Jury," Claremont Colleges Working Papers 2000-10, Claremont Colleges.
  5. Manski, Charles F & Lerman, Steven R, 1977. "The Estimation of Choice Probabilities from Choice Based Samples," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(8), pages 1977-88, November.
  6. Boyes, William J. & Hoffman, Dennis L. & Low, Stuart A., 1989. "An econometric analysis of the bank credit scoring problem," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 3-14, January.
  7. Cooter, Robert D & Rubinfeld, Daniel L, 1989. "Economic Analysis of Legal Disputes and Their Resolution," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 1067-97, September.
  8. Tabarrok, Alexander & Helland, Eric, 1999. "Court Politics: The Political Economy of Tort Awards," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 157-88, April.
  9. Helland, Eric & Tabarrok, Alexander T, 2000. "Runaway Judges? Selection Effects and the Jury," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(2), pages 306-33, October.
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Cited by:
  1. Helland, Eric & Klick, Jonathan, 2010. "To Regulate, Litigate, or Both," Working paper 32, Regulation2point0.
  2. Michael D. Makowsky & Thomas Stratmann, 2011. "More Tickets, Fewer Accidents: How Cash-Strapped Towns Make for Safer Roads," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(4), pages 863 - 888.
  3. Eric Helland & Alexander Tabarrok, . "Race, Poverty, and American Tort Awards: Evidence from Three Datasets," Claremont Colleges Working Papers 2002-29, Claremont Colleges.
  4. Eric Helland & Jonathan Klick & Alexander Tabarrok, 2005. "Data Watch: Tort-uring the Data," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 207-220, Spring.

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