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Executive Pay-Performance-Sensitivity and Litigation

Posted: 17 Feb 2011 Last revised: 21 Jan 2013

Zhonglan Dai

University of Texas at Dallas - School of Management

Li Jin

Harvard Business School - Finance Unit

Weining Zhang

Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business

Date Written: December 17, 2010


Although the standard principal-agent model predicts a negative relation between incentive strength (i.e., pay-performance-sensitivity or PPS) and firm risk, the empirical evidence is mixed (Prendergast, 2002). This study revisits this prediction. Using carefully selected litigation events to conduct a comparative static analysis, we show that firm risk, post lawsuit filing, increases by about 11% for our sample. We then document that the incremental PPS (measured by the correlation between executive’s annual compensation and shareholders’ wealth) drops after the company is sued, although the total value of compensation remains relatively unchanged. Once a lawsuit case is closed, we find that both firm risk and the incremental PPS revert back (risk goes down and incremental PPS goes up). Finally, we use the instrumental variable approach to test the relation between PPS level (measured by the sensitivity between executive’s wealth and shareholders’ wealth) and firm risk directly, and again find that, cross-sectionally, firm risk is negatively correlated with PPS level. Our evidences suggest that the standard principal-agent model prediction holds well and that executive’s incentives are indeed negatively related to firm risk.

Keywords: executive compensation, pay-performance-sensitivity, risk, litigation event

JEL Classification: G30, M41

Suggested Citation

Dai, Zhonglan and Jin, Li and Zhang, Weining, Executive Pay-Performance-Sensitivity and Litigation (December 17, 2010). Contemporary Accounting Research, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Zhonglan Dai

University of Texas at Dallas - School of Management ( email )

2601 North Floyd Road
Richardson, TX 75083
United States

Li Jin (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Finance Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-5590 (Phone)
617-496-5271 (Fax)

Weining Zhang

Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business ( email )

Oriental Plaza, Tower E3
One East Chang An Avenue
Beijing, 100738


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