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Court Politics: The Political Economy of Tort Awards

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  • Tabarrok, Alexander
  • Helland, Eric

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • 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 157-188, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:42:y:1999:i:1:p:157-88
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/467421
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael S. Kang & Joanna M. Shepherd, 2015. "Partisanship in State Supreme Courts: The Empirical Relationship between Party Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decision Making," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(S1), pages 161-185.
    2. F. Andrew Hanssen, 2004. "Learning about Judicial Independence: Institutional Change in the State Courts," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 431-473, June.
    3. Arruñada, Benito & Casari, Marco, 2016. "Fragile markets: An experiment on judicial independence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 142-156.
    4. Daniel P. Kessler & Daniel L. Rubinfeld, 2004. "Empirical Study of the Civil Justice System," NBER Working Papers 10825, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Frenzen, Paul D. & Buzby, Jean C. & Rasco, Barbara, 2001. "Product Liability And Microbial Foodborne Illness," Agricultural Economics Reports 34059, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    6. Adriana Cordis, 2009. "Judicial checks on corruption in the United States," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 10(4), pages 375-401, November.
    7. Benito Arruñada & Marco Casari, 2007. "How enforcement institutions affect markets," Purdue University Economics Working Papers 1200, Purdue University, Department of Economics.
    8. Elliott Ash, W. Bentley MacLeod, . "Intrinsic Motivation in Public Service: Theory and Evidence from State Supreme Courts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58(4).
    9. Smith Stan V. & Zaloshnja Eduard & Miller Ted & Smith David A. & Spicer Rebecca S., 2008. "Jury Verdicts in Drunken Driving Cases," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 4(1), pages 475-498, December.
    10. Eric Helland & Alexander Tabarrok, 2003. "Race, Poverty, and American Tort Awards: Evidence from Three Data Sets," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(1), pages 27-58, January.
    11. Wentland Scott, 2012. "Political Beliefs and Tort Awards: Evidence of Rationally Political Jurors from Two Data Sets," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(3), pages 619-656, December.
    12. James M. Snyder & David Stromberg & Claire S.H. Lim, 2010. "Measuring Media Influence on U.S. State Courts," 2010 Meeting Papers 1193, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    13. F. Andrew Hanssen, 2004. "Is There a Politically Optimal Level of Judicial Independence?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 712-729, June.
    14. Haitian Lu, Hongbo Pan, Chenying Zhang, . "Political Connectedness and Court Outcomes: Evidence from Chinese Corporate Lawsuits," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58(4).
    15. Dove, John A., 2015. "The effect of judicial independence on entrepreneurship in the US states," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 72-96.
    16. Brenner Dror & Cohen Alon, 2016. "Ideology and Strategy among Politicians: The Case of Judicial Independence," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 333-375, July.
    17. Daniel Berkowitz & Karen Clay, 2006. "The Effect of Judicial Independence on Courts: Evidence from the American States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(2), pages 399-440, June.
    18. Cohen, Mark A. & Miller, Ted R., 2003. ""Willingness to award" nonmonetary damages and the implied value of life from jury awards," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 165-181, June.
    19. Eric Helland & Alexander Taberrok, "undated". "The Effect of Electoral Institutions on Tort Awards," Claremont Colleges Working Papers 1999-07, Claremont Colleges.
    20. Jack Hirshleifer & Evan Osborne, 1999. "Truth and the Legal Battle," UCLA Economics Working Papers 790, UCLA Department of Economics.
    21. Claire Lim, 2009. "Turnover and Accountability of Appointed and Elected Judges," 2009 Meeting Papers 190, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    22. Claire S.H. Lim & James M. Snyder, Jr., 2012. "Elections and the Quality of Public Officials: Evidence from U.S. State Courts," NBER Working Papers 18355, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    23. Lim, Claire S.H. & Snyder, James M., 2015. "Is more information always better? Party cues and candidate quality in U.S. judicial elections," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 107-123.
    24. Amanda Y. Agan, 2011. "Sex Offender Registries: Fear without Function?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(1), pages 207-239.
    25. Paul Rubin, 2005. "Public choice and tort reform," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 124(1), pages 223-236, July.

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