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A Skeptical Attitude about Product Liability is Justified: A Reply to Professors Goldberg and Zipursky

19 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2010  

A. Mitchell Polinsky

Stanford Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Steven Shavell

Harvard Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 30, 2010

Abstract

In The Uneasy Case for Product Liability, we maintained that the benefits of product liability are likely to be less than its costs for many products, especially widely sold ones. Our article was intended to alter the dominant view held by the judiciary and commentators that product liability has a clear justification on grounds of public policy. We argued instead that a skeptical attitude toward product liability should be adopted.

Professors John Goldberg and Benjamin Zipursky strongly criticize our article in The Easy Case for Products Liability Law: A Response to Professors Polinsky and Shavell. To a significant extent, however, they attack a straw man, for they impute to us a radical thesis – that product liability should be eliminated for all widely sold products – that we manifestly did not advance. In fact, we argued that whether product liability is undesirable depends on the particular product. Goldberg and Zipursky also ascribe to us other opinions that exaggerate what we said in our article – notably, they state that we believe that product liability has no beneficial effect on product safety for widely sold products. It is not surprising, therefore, that they are unable to support these mischaracterizations with citations to statements in our article.

The major claim that Goldberg and Zipursky develop is that our benefit-cost analysis fails to demonstrate that the case for product liability is uneasy. In our view, their critique is deficient on multiple accounts, including that it contains numerous distortions and errors, and hence does not alter our original conclusion.

Keywords: product liability, public policy, benefit-cost analysis

Suggested Citation

Polinsky, A. Mitchell and Shavell, Steven, A Skeptical Attitude about Product Liability is Justified: A Reply to Professors Goldberg and Zipursky (June 30, 2010). Stanford Law and Economics Olin Working Paper No. 399. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1689272 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1689272

A. Mitchell Polinsky (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Steven Shavell

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-3668 (Phone)
617-496-2256 (Fax)

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