Corporations and Human Life

28 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2017 Last revised: 6 Apr 2017

See all articles by Frank Partnoy

Frank Partnoy

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: 2017


This article considers a hypothetical corporate decision that will generate $5 million of profit today but result in the loss of one human life in ten years. This example is not abstract; corporations in a range of businesses engage in decisions and oversight that affect risk to human life: autonomous cars and airbags, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and many categories of consumer products. Historically, social policy has responded to corporations that kill primarily through regulation and tort liability. I ask whether corporate law and governance might also address these issues. If corporations really are “people,” how should we think about them when they kill? The article assesses the literatures on the value of human life and relevant discount rates, and considers proposals to incentivize directors and officers to consider more explicitly the risks their corporations pose to human life.

Keywords: Corporate Law, Liability, Tort Liability, Regulation, Regulation and Tort Liability Costs in Terms of Human Life

JEL Classification: A00, A10, K10, K20, K23

Suggested Citation

Partnoy, Frank, Corporations and Human Life (2017). Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2017, San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 17-268, Available at SSRN: or

Frank Partnoy (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics