Tort Reform and Accidental Deaths
Theory suggests that tort reform could have two possible impacts on accidents. Reforms could increase accidents as tortfeasors internalize less of the cost of externalities and have less incentive to reduce the risk of accidents. Alternatively, tort reforms could decrease accidents as lower expected liability costs result in lower prices, enabling consumers to buy more risk-reducing products such as medicines, safety equipment, and medical services, and could result in consumers increasing precautions to avoid accidents. We test these effects by examining the relationship between tort reform and non-motor-vehicle accidental death rates using panel data techniques. We find that noneconomic damage caps, a higher evidence standard for punitive damages, product liability reform, and prejudgment interest reform are associated with fewer accidental deaths, while reforms to the collateral source rule are associated with increased deaths. Overall, the tort reforms in the states between 1981 and 2000 are associated with an estimated 24,000 fewer accidental deaths.
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