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The Deterrent Effect of Tort Law: Evidence from Medical Malpractice Reform

Zenon Zabinski, Bernard S. Black
Journal of Health Economics
June 2022

Tort liability may reduce the incidence of negligent behavior by creating incentives to lower the risk of harm. In particular, medical malpractice liability may provide incentives for physicians and hospitals to devote greater efforts to patient safety. However, there is limited empirical evidence on the extent to which tort liability risk affects patient outcomes. In “The Deterrent Effect of Tort Law: Evidence from Medical Malpractice Reform,” Principal Zenon Zabinski and co-author Bernard S. Black examine whether caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases affect in-hospital patient safety. They find evidence that certain non-fatal adverse patient safety events increase in states that adopted such caps. Their results lend support for the conclusion that higher liability pressure can lead to higher healthcare quality.

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