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Court Politics: The Political Economy of Tort Awards

Listed author(s):
  • Tabarrok, Alexander
  • Helland, Eric

We investigate the forces that explain why trial awards differ across the United States. In 23 states judges are elected and in 10 they are elected via partisan elections. Elections have two important effects. First, defendants are often out-of-state nonvoters while plaintiffs are typically in-state voters. We predict, therefore, that elected judges will redistribute wealth from out-of-state businesses to in-state plaintiffs. Second, the realities of campaign financing require judges to seek and accept campaign funding from trial lawyers, who uniformly are interested in larger awards. We hypothesize that these two forces cause awards to be larger in states where the judiciary is elected rather than appointed. We also hypothesize that the demand for redistribution will increase as poverty increases and, thus, that awards will be larger in states with greater poverty. Using a sample of over 7,000 cases across 48 of the 50 states, we find significant evidence in support of these hypotheses. Copyright 1999 by the University of Chicago.

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/467421
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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Law & Economics.

Volume (Year): 42 (1999)
Issue (Month): 1 (April)
Pages: 157-188

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:42:y:1999:i:1:p:157-88
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/

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  1. 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 229-260, April.
  2. George L. Priest & Benjamin Klein, 1984. "The Selection of Disputes for Litigation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(1), pages 1-56, January.
  3. Epstein, Richard A, 1988. "The Political Economy of Product Liability Reform," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(2), pages 311-315, May.
  4. 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 1067-1097, September.
  5. Moulton, Brent R, 1990. "An Illustration of a Pitfall in Estimating the Effects of Aggregate Variables on Micro Unit," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 72(2), pages 334-338, May.
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