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Liability Rules, Limited Information, and the Role of Precedent

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  • Robert Cooter
  • Lewis Kornhauser
  • David Lane

Abstract

Recent studies of the role of law in distributing accident costs have led to the pessimistic conclusion that because judges lack the information to discover the efficient level of care, efficiency cannot be achieved by common law tort rules. We show that judges have enough information to revise the legal standard via the mechanism of precedent so that the standard adopted tends toward efficiency. This optimistic conclusion results from changing previous models so that the level of care taken by litigants affects the information available to the court, but does not directly influence the legal standard. We model a sequence of court decisions by differential equations and show that the unique, stable equilibrium is efficient.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Cooter & Lewis Kornhauser & David Lane, 1979. "Liability Rules, Limited Information, and the Role of Precedent," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 366-373, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:rje:bellje:v:10:y:1979:i:spring:p:366-373
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Edwin Mansfield & John Rapoport & Anthony Romeo & Samuel Wagner & George Beardsley, 1977. "Social and Private Rates of Return from Industrial Innovations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 91(2), pages 221-240.
    2. Mansfield, Edwin, 1980. "Basic Research and Productivity Increase in Manufacturing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(5), pages 863-873, December.
    3. Berndt, Ernst R & Christensen, Laurits R, 1974. "Testing for the Existence of a Consistent Aggregate Index of Labor Inputs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(3), pages 391-404, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Beck, Thorsten & Demirguc-Kunt, Asli & Levine, Ross, 2003. "Law and finance: why does legal origin matter?," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 653-675, December.
    2. Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Patricio A. Fernandez, 2008. "Case Law versus Statute Law: An Evolutionary Comparison," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(2), pages 379-430, June.
    3. Anthony Niblett & Richard A. Posner & Andrei Shleifer, 2010. "The Evolution of a Legal Rule," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(2), pages 325-358.
    4. Scott Baker & Claudio Mezzetti, 2012. "A Theory of Rational Jurisprudence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 120(3), pages 513-551.
    5. Gennaioli, Nicola & Shleifer, Andrei, 2007. "Overruling and the instability of law," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, pages 309-328.
    6. Thorsten Beck & Asli Demirguc-Kunt, 2005. "Law and Firms' Access to Finance," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 211-252.
    7. Thorsten Beck & Ross Levine, 2003. "Legal Institutions and Financial Development," NBER Working Papers 10126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Dyar, Julie A. & Wagner, Jeffrey, 2003. "Uncertainty and species recovery program design," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 45(2, Supple), pages 505-522, March.
    9. Robert Cooter & Ariel Porat, 2007. "Total Liability for Excessive Harm," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 63-80, January.
    10. Ott, Claus & Schafer, Hans-Bernd, 1997. "Negligence as untaken precaution, limited information, and efficient standard formation in the civil liability system," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 15-29, March.
    11. Grajzl, Peter & Murrell, Peter, 2016. "A Darwinian theory of institutional evolution two centuries before Darwin?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 131(PA), pages 346-372.
    12. Hadfield, Gillian K., 2011. "The dynamic quality of law: The role of judicial incentives and legal human capital in the adaptation of law," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 79(1-2), pages 80-94, June.
    13. Anthony Niblett, 2013. "Case-by-Case Adjudication and the Path of the Law," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(2), pages 303-330.
    14. Thomas J. Miceli, 2009. "Legal Change: Selective Litigation, Judicial Bias, and Precedent," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(1), pages 157-168, January.
    15. repec:kap:ejlwec:v:43:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10657-015-9520-1 is not listed on IDEAS

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