The current products liability crisis is both familiar and puzzling: million-dollar awards for apparently frivolous claims, inadequate settlements for thousands of people with severe injuries, skyrocketing insurance premiums, an overburdened judicial system. The adverse effects of this crisis on product innovation may be particularly detrimental to the extent that they deprive consumers of newer and safer goods.
W. Kip Viscusi offers the first comprehensive and objective analysis of the crisis. He employs extensive, original empirical data to diagnose the causes and to assess the merits of alternative reform policies.
Drawing on both liability insurance trends and litigation patterns, Viscusi shows that the products liability crisis is not simply a phenomenon of the 1980s but has been developing for several decades. He argues that the principal causes have been the expansion of the doctrine of design defect, the emergence of mass toxic torts, and the increase in lawsuits involving hazard warnings. This explanation differs sharply from that of most other scholars, who blame the doctrine of strict liability. Viscusi reformulates the concept of design defect, grounding it in sound economic analysis. He also evaluates public policy regarding hazard warnings and proposes a new national approach.
More generally, the author sketches a comprehensive social risk policy, in which tort liability interacts with government health and safety regulation to foster a coherent set of institutional responses to health and safety risks. Reforming Products Liability will be of special interest to lawyers, judges, policymakers, economists, and all those interested in legal policy and health and safety issues.
W. Kip Viscusi is George G. Allen Professor of Economics at Duke University and Associate Reporter on the American Law Institute tort liability reform project.
Preface 1. Diagnosing the Liability Crisis Perspectives on Liability Reform Recent Trends in Products Liability Proposals for Reform 2. The Dimensions of the Liability Crisis Accident Rates Decline, But Litigation Soars The Surge in Asbestos Litigation Insurance Industry Trends Roots of the Insurance Crisis, 1980-1984 Other Economic Effects of Products Liability The Design Defect Doctrine and Hazard Warnings 3. The Litigation Process The Overall Structure of Products Liability Litigation Court Verdicts Claims Settled Out of Court Cases That Are Dropped Using Economic Models to Assess Reform Proposals 4. The Design Defect Test A Case Study of Risk-Utility Tradeoffs Risk-Utility Analysis The Producer as Insurer Alternative Risk-Utility Measures On the Threshold of Marketability Who Decides? Proposals for Restructuring the Product Defect Test 5. The Explosive Mathematics of Damages The Insurance Value and the Deterrence Value of Damages Inflation and the Increase in Verdict Awards Noneconomic Damages Has Voodoo Economics Come to the Courts? Applying the Value of Life: The Ford Pinto Case Proposals for Setting Damages 6. Regulation of Product Safety The Adequacy of Incentives Regulatory Violations and Products Liability Litigation Restructuring the Institutional Interactions 7. Hazard Warnings The Objectives of Hazard Warnings Assessing the Quality of Warnings Warnings and the Risk-Utility Test Regulatory Compliance Toward a National Warnings Policy 8. Environmental and Mass Toxic Torts The Market Paradigm and Why It Fails Products Liability--an Inadequate Remedy Agent Orange and the Economic Stakes of Mass Toxic Torts Compensation Funds Strategies for Mass Toxic Torts 9. Workers' Compensation Lessons from the Workers' Compensation Experience Job-Related Products Liability Claims and Workers' Compensation 10. Will Products Liability Reform Matter? Insurance Availability Products Liability Definitions State-of-the-Art Defenses Statutes of Limitation Collateral Source Rules and Damage Rules Effects on Premiums Conclusion 11. A Strategy for Principled Products Liability Reform Appendix A: Products Liability Costs in Different Industries Appendix B: The Litigation of Job-Related Claims Notes Bibliography Index