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Should Liability be Based on the Harm to the Victim or the Gain to the Injurer?

Author

Listed:
  • A. Mitchell Polinsky
  • Steven Shavell

Abstract

Should the level of liability imposed on an injurer be based on the harm he caused or instead on the gain he obtained from engaging in the harmful act? The main point of this article is that there is a strong reason to favor liability based on harm rather than gain when account is taken of the possibility of legal error. Notably, even a small underestimate of gain can lead an injurer to commit a harmful act when the harm greatly exceeds his gain, causing a large social loss. In contrast, a comparable error in the estimate of harm will not lead an injurer to engage in the harmful act when the harm significantly exceeds his gain. The general superiority of harm-based liability is shown to hold under the rules of negligence and strict liability and regardless of whether potential injurers know the error that will be made.

Suggested Citation

  • A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1993. "Should Liability be Based on the Harm to the Victim or the Gain to the Injurer?," NBER Working Papers 4586, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4586
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w4586.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Wittman, Donald, 1985. "Should compensation be based on costs or benefits?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 173-185, December.
    2. Craswell, Richard & Calfee, John E, 1986. "Deterrence and Uncertain Legal Standards," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 2(2), pages 279-303, Fall.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Timothy Stanley, 1995. "Radar Detectors, Fixed and Variable Costs of Crime," Law and Economics 9507002, EconWPA, revised 27 Dec 1995.
    2. Giuseppe Dari-Mattiacci, 2009. "Negative Liability," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(1), pages 21-59, January.
    3. repec:spr:reaccs:v:23:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s11142-017-9435-x is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Timothy Stanley, 1995. "Optimal Penalties for Concealment of Crime," Law and Economics 9507001, EconWPA, revised 27 Dec 1995.
    5. Eric Rasmusen, 1995. "``Predictable and Unpredictable Error in Tort Awards: The Effect of Plaintiff Self Selection and Signalling,''," Law and Economics 9506003, EconWPA.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K10 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - General (Constitutional Law)
    • K13 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Tort Law and Product Liability; Forensic Economics

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