Do Class Actions Deter Wrongdoing?

The Class Action Effect (Catherine Piché, ed., Éditions Yvon Blais, Montreal, 2018)

Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 17-40

25 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2017 Last revised: 24 Jul 2018

Date Written: September 12, 2017


I and other scholars have long pointed to the deterrence virtue of the class action to justify its existence even when it was doubtful that it furthered its other purposes, such as compensation or litigation efficiency. In recent years, critics have argued that class actions may not offer even this virtue. Some argue that the entire theory of general deterrence is misguided for class actions and others argue that, whatever the theory, there is no empirical proof that class actions do what the theory says. In this article, I take up these critiques. I find that the theory of deterrence remains just as strong today as it was when it was introduced 50 years ago by the “classical” law and economics movement. Moreover, although there is not a great deal of empirical evidence to support the theory for class actions, there is some, it is uncontroverted, and it is consistent with reams and reams of empirical evidence in favor of deterrence for individual lawsuits. I conclude that the conventional view that the class action can be justified by the deterrence rationale alone remains sound.

Keywords: Deterrence, Class Actions, Empirical Studies, Law and Economics, Litigation

Suggested Citation

Fitzpatrick, Brian T., Do Class Actions Deter Wrongdoing? (September 12, 2017). The Class Action Effect (Catherine Piché, ed., Éditions Yvon Blais, Montreal, 2018), Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 17-40, Available at SSRN: or

Brian T. Fitzpatrick (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-322-4032 (Phone)

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