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The Effect of Electoral Institutions on Tort Awards

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  • Eric Helland

    (Claremont McKenna College)

  • Alexander Taberrok

    (The Independent Institute)

Abstract

Politicians are not neutral maximizers of the public good, they respond to incentives just like other individuals. We apply the same reasoning to those politicians in robes called judges. We argue that elected judges, particularly partisan elected judges, have an incentive to redistribute wealth from out-of-state defendants (non-voters) to instate plaintiffs (voters). The partisan electoral hypothesis is tested first using data on 75,000 tort awards from across the states. We control for differences in injuries, state incomes, poverty levels, selection effects and other factors that may cause awards to differ across the states. One difference which appears difficult to control for is that each state has its own body of tort law. We take advantage of a peculiar aspect of American Federalism to make this distinction. In cases involving citizens of different states, aptly called diversity of citizenship cases, Federal judges apply state law to decide disputes. Diversity of citizenship cases allow us to test whether differences in awards are caused by differences in electoral systems or differences in state law. The evidence from the cross-state regressions and from the diversity of citizenship cases, strongly supports the partisan election hypothesis. In cases involving out-of-state defendants and in-state plaintiffs the average award (conditional on winning) is 42% higher in partisan than in non-partisan states; approximately 2/3 rds of the larger award is due to a bias against out-of-state defendants and the remainder due to generally higher awards against businesses in partisan states.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric Helland & Alexander Taberrok, "undated". "The Effect of Electoral Institutions on Tort Awards," Claremont Colleges Working Papers 1999-07, Claremont Colleges.
  • Handle: RePEc:clm:clmeco:1999-07
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    File URL: http://www.claremontmckenna.edu/rdschool/papers/1999-07.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Eric Helland & Alexander Taberrok, "undated". "Runaway Judges? Selection Effects and the Jury," Claremont Colleges Working Papers 2000-10, Claremont Colleges.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Heckman, James, 2013. "Sample selection bias as a specification error," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 31(3), pages 129-137.
    5. Kornhauser, Lewis A & Revesz, Richard L, 1994. "Multidefendant Settlements: The Impact of Joint and Several Liability," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(1), pages 41-76, January.
    6. 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.
    7. Boyes, William J. & Hoffman, Dennis L. & Low, Stuart A., 1989. "An econometric analysis of the bank credit scoring problem," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 3-14, January.
    8. Helland, Eric & Tabarrok, Alexander T, 2000. "Runaway Judges? Selection Effects and the Jury," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 16(2), pages 306-333, October.
    9. Manski, Charles F & Lerman, Steven R, 1977. "The Estimation of Choice Probabilities from Choice Based Samples," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 45(8), pages 1977-1988, November.
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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. Peter Grajzl & Valentina Dimitrova-Grajzl & Katarina Zajc, 2016. "Inside post-socialist courts: the determinants of adjudicatory outcomes in Slovenian commercial disputes," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 85-115, February.
    3. Michael D. Makowsky & Thomas Stratmann, 2011. "More Tickets, Fewer Accidents: How Cash-Strapped Towns Make for Safer Roads," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 54(4), pages 863-888.
    4. Alma Cohen & Alon Klement & Zvika Neeman, 2015. "Judicial Decision Making: A Dynamic Reputation Approach," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(S1), pages 133-159.
    5. 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.
    6. Eric Helland & Jonathan Klick & Alexander Tabarrok, 2005. "Data Watch: Tort-uring the Data," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 207-220, Spring.

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