Encouraging Insurers to Regulate: The Role (If Any) for Tort Law
University of California, Irvine Law Review (Forthcoming)
35 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2015 Last revised: 22 May 2017
Date Written: January 8, 2015
Insurance companies are financially responsible for a substantial portion of the losses associated with risky activities in the economy. The more insurers can lower the risks posed by their insureds, the more competitively they can price their policies, and the more customers they can attract. Thus, competition forces insurers to be private regulators of risk. To that end, insurers deploy a range of techniques to encourage their insureds to reduce the risks of their insured activities, from charging experience-rated premiums to giving special premium discounts to insureds who make specific behavioral changes designed to reduce risk. Somewhat paradoxically, however, tort law discourages insurers from engaging in the direct regulation of their insureds’ behavior. Under longstanding tort principles, if an insurer “undertakes” to provide serious risk-reduction services to an insured, the insurer can be found to have a duty of reasonable care and, should that duty be breached, held liable for any harms caused to third parties. This application of tort principles to insurance companies could be contributing to the moral hazard problem often associated with insurance — the tendency of insurance to cause risk to increase rather than decrease. This Article explores this problem and analyzes a number of ways to encourage insurers to regulate — from insurer-specific Good Samaritan statutes (which we might call a “carrot”) to the expansion of tort principles to create an affirmative duty on the part of insurers to regulate (which would definitely be a “stick”). What combination of carrots and sticks produces the optimal insurer incentives to regulate their insureds’ behavior? That is the question the Article addresses.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation