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Tort Reform and Innovation

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Current academic and policy debates focus on the impact of tort reforms on physicians’ behavior and medical costs. This paper examines whether these reforms also affect incentives to develop new technologies. We develop a theoretical model that predicts that the impact of reducing liability risks for physicians on innovation may be positive or negative, depending on the characteristics of the technology. Empirically, we find that, on average, laws that limit the liability exposure of health care providers are associated with a significant reduction in medical device patenting. Tort reforms have the strongest impact in medical fields in which the probability of facing a malpractice claim is the largest, and they do not seem to affect the number of new technologies of the highest and lowest quality. Our results underscore the importance of considering dynamic effects in the economic analysis of tort laws.

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