The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

News Release
June 7, 2006

Is The U.S. Justice System Broken and Can It Be Fixed?
JUDGE AND JURY: American Tort Law on Trial

By Eric A. Helland and Alexander Tabarrok

“In Judge and Jury, Helland and Tabarrok provide a superb and pioneering examination of the litigation nightmare in the United States. This book is indispensable reading on how to solve this enormous problem.”
Paul H. Rubin, Professor of Economics and Law, Emory University

 “In Judge and Jury, Helland and Tabarrok take the available data and present a fascinating portrait of civil justice in America.”
Philip K. Howard, author of Death of Common Sense

Jury demographics, including levels of poverty and ethnic make-up, are having a dramatic impact on the amount of damages awarded by juries, say two economists who have studied tens of thousands of tort cases across the United States.  “As county poverty rates increase from 4.1% to 21.9%, the average award triples from just over $400,000 to just over $1.3 million,” say Alex Tabarrok and Eric Helland in their new book, Judge and Jury: American Tort Law on Trial. “For every percentage point increase in the poverty rate, awards increase by about $34,000.”

Judge and Jury is a fascinating look at how race and poverty impact trial decisions by juries, how judges compare to juries when awarding damages, and the influence of judicial electoral systems on the decisions of judges.

“Whether we look at expenditures, awards, settlements, or filings, the basic story is consistent: The tort system in the United States expanded significantly during the 1970s and 1980s,” say economists Eric Helland and Alex Tabarrok.  Helland and Tabarrok present their study of tens of thousands of tort cases from across the United States in the new book, Judge and Jury: American Tort Law on Trial (The Independent Institute, June 2006). Their analysis uncovers some surprising findings:

  • Huge awards are often driven by political factors such as jury composition and judicial elections, not by law or economics.
  • Jury demographics, including county poverty rates and ethnic make up, impact the amount of the awards.
  • Contingent fees actually decrease, rather than increase, frivolous litigation.

“Contract law, rather than tort law, traditionally dealt with injuries incurred when parties had a preexisting relationship, such as doctors and patients. This tradition broke down in the 1960s as the courts moved increasingly from a negligence standard to a strict-liability standard. That change in legal standards brought more injuries into the tort system,” write Helland and Tabarrok.

Judge and Jury seeks to reverse the extremely harmful trends in tort law, offers innovative alternatives for reforming the tort system, and charts a course toward re-establishing fair civil justice for all in the United States.

About the Authors

Eric A. Helland is Professor of Economics at Claremont McKenna College, former Senior Economist at the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCLA Center for Governance. His articles have appeared in such scholarly journals as the Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Journal of Legal Studies, Journal of Law and Economics, and Journal of Regulatory Economics.

Alexander Tabarrok is Research Director for The Independent Institute, Assistant Editor of The Independent Review, and Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University. Dr. Tabarrok’s books include Entrepreneurial Economics, Changing the Guard, and The Voluntary City, and he is co-author of the web site,

Judge and Jury: American Tort Law on Trial
By Eric A. Helland and Alexander Tabarrok
$15.95, Paper
168 pages, 6 x 9, ISBN 0-945999-99-2
Date of Publication: June 2006
Published by the Independent Institute
100 Swan Way, Oakland, California 94621-1428

  • Catalyst