The United States has recently witnessed an explosion of personal injury lawsuits involving medical malpractice, unsafe products, and widespread environmental hazards. Jury awards and out-of-court settlements have escalated in many cases to hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the same time, premiums for liability insurance have skyrocketed. As a result, physicians have cut back services and some municipalities and businesses have been denied liability coverage altogether. Some experts claim that only fundamental reform of the nation's civil justice system will end this "insurance crisis." But critics of such wholesale judicial reform contend that the insurance industry has launced a "tort reform" campaign to cover its own past underwriting mistakes. Liability brings together economists and experts in liability law and the insurance industry to assess the merits of the conflicting positions and to formulate sound public policy. Led by Robert Litan and Clifford Winston, the contributors describe the major changes that have contributed to the insurance crunch and set forth a methodological framework for evaluating the debate over the current liability system.
They conclude that increases in premiums and cutbacks in coverage have been real but selective; that the forces in the judicial system responsible for rising liability costs are not readily subject to change; and that we know too little about the cost and benefits of the current tort system to replace it with an alternative compensation program.
Robert E. Litan is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution and vice president for research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. Among his many books is Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity (Yale University Press, 2007), written with William J. Baumol and Carl J. Schramm. Clifford Winston is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. Among his previous books are Deregulation of Network Industries: What's Next? coedited with Sam Peltzman (AEI-Brookings, 2000), and Alternate Route: Toward Efficient Urban Transportation, cowritten with Chad Shirley (Brookings, 1998).
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