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Does Tort Law Reform Help or Hurt Consumers?

Stephen P. King

Monash University - Department of Economics; Productivity Commission

June 23, 2009

Legal limits on insurance damages claims have been introduced in Australia, the United States and other jurisdictions. In this paper I construct a simple competitive model to analyze the effect of tort law reforms on consumers. The model shows that reforms to limit non-economic losses make consumers unambiguously worse off ex ante. Although insurance premiums fall and these reductions are passed on to consumers in full, this gain is more than offset by the increased risk that consumers are forced to bear. In contrast, reforms for income related (i.e. economic) losses lead to ambiguous outcomes. The potential benefits from limits to economic loss arise due to the inability of insurers to price discriminate on the basis of income or expected loss. Because of this there is an implicit cross-subsidy from low-income to high-income consumers that is embedded in the insurance premium and relevant product price. Tort law reforms partially unwind this cross subsidy.

The results presented in this paper show that tort law reforms may achieve their stated goal, such as lowering monetary prices, but can still make consumers worse off by introducing an uninsurable risk. There is also an important difference between reforms that limit claims for economic and non-economic losses. Insurance for economic loss will generally include an implicit cross-subsidy and, as a consequence, reforms can alter the ex ante utility for different groups of consumers in different ways.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

Keywords: tort law reform, insurance, malpractice

JEL Classification: K13, L50, D89

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Date posted: June 23, 2009  

Suggested Citation

King, Stephen P., Does Tort Law Reform Help or Hurt Consumers? (June 23, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1424280 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1424280

Contact Information

Stephen Peter King (Contact Author)
Monash University - Department of Economics ( email )
Wellington Road
Victoria, Roodepoort 3145
Productivity Commission ( email )
Level 28
35 Collins St.
Melbourne, Victoria, Victoria 3000
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