Courts of Law and Unforeseen Contingencies
Posted: 23 Jun 2008
Date Written: October 2007
We study a contracting model with unforeseen contingencies in which the court is an active player. Ex ante, the contracting parties cannot include the risky unforeseen contingencies in the contract they draw up. Ex post, the court observes whether an unforeseen contingency occurred and decides whether to void or uphold the contract. If the contract is voided by the court, the parties can renegotiate a new agreement ex post. There are two effects of a court that voids contracts. The parties' incentives to undertake relationship-specific investment are reduced, and the parties enjoy greater insurance against the unforeseen contingencies that the ex ante contract cannot account for. In this context, we fully characterize the optimal decision rule for the court. The behavior of the optimal court is determined by the trade-off between the need for incentives and the gains from insurance that voiding in some circumstances offers to the agents.
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