Browse Publications Technical Papers 2006-21-0062
2006-10-16

Tort Reform and Motor Vehicle Deaths 2006-21-0062

Theory is ambiguous as to the effect of tort reform on accidents and accidental deaths. There are factors that might lead such reforms to increase deaths, and factors that might lead to reduced deaths. Previous research on non-automotive accidents from 1980-2000 found that some reforms lead to increased deaths and some to reduced deaths; net, tort reforms led to about 24,000 fewer deaths. Here, we extend that research to examine motor vehicle deaths. There is an additional factor to consider in the case of automobile deaths. Tort reform would be expected to reduce the cost and so increase the incidence of automobile insurance. Other research has found that increased automobile insurance leads to increased deaths, and so tort reform might lead to increased deaths through this channel. As before, we find mixed results. Caps on punitive damages, product liability reform, and collateral source reform (offset awards) lead to reduced deaths; higher evidence standard for punitive damages and joint and several liability reform lead to increased deaths. Overall, the particular reforms passed in the U.S. from 1980-2000 have led to about 7,500 increased accidental deaths. One implication is that states in passing tort reforms might pass different reforms for automobile and other torts.

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