The unexpected effects of caps on non-economic damages
This paper focuses on the economic and legal implications of the enactment of caps on non-economic damages on conflicting parties who know that state supreme courts may strike down the caps as unconstitutional within a few years of enactment. We develop a simple screening model where parties have symmetric expectations regarding the probability of a strike down and asymmetric information regarding plaintiff's non-economic harm. Our model makes the following predictions: First, caps may increase the length required to resolve disputes if the caps are low enough or the probability of a strike down is large enough. Second, although caps always increase the percentage of disputes that are settled out of courts, they do not necessarily save litigation expenses. Third, when caps increase the length of dispute resolution, they also increase litigation expenses if and only if the settlement negotiation costs are neither too small nor too large. Fourth, while caps always reduce the recoveries of plaintiffs with large claims, caps may increase recoveries of plaintiffs with low claims compared to their recoveries in states with no caps. We end by discussing the robustness of the results.
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