Manufacturer Liability for Harms Caused by Consumers to Others
26 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2004 Last revised: 26 Jun 2010
Date Written: December 2004
Should the manufacturer of a product be held legally responsible when a consumer, while using the product, harms someone else? We show that if consumers have deep pockets then manufacturer liability is not economically efficient. It is more efficient for the consumers themselves to bear responsibility for the harms that they cause. If homogeneous consumers have limited assets, then the most efficient rule is "residual-manufacturer liability" where the manufacturer pays the shortfall in damages not paid by the consumer. Residual-manufacturer liability distorts the market quantity when consumers' willingness to pay is correlated with their propensity to cause harm. It distorts product safety when consumers differ in their wealth levels. In both cases, consumer-only liability may be more efficient.
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