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Information transmission during the trial: The role of punitive damages and legal costs

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Journal of Public Economic Theory

Published online on


This paper studies an incomplete information model in which a preventable accident occurred. The judge determining punitive damages observes the firm's (defendant) investment decisions, but is uninformed about the firm's experience adopting safety measures. Our model allows firms to file an appeal if the judge's verdict is incorrect, which the judge may accept or reject. We identify under which conditions a separating equilibrium exists where the firm's investment decisions signal its type to the judge, who responds with a correct verdict, thus avoiding future appeals. Our paper also finds conditions under which a pooling equilibrium exists whereby the firm's investment in precaution conceals its type from the judge, who can respond with an incorrect verdict thus giving rise to appeals. Furthermore, we show that the separating equilibrium is more likely to arise if the percentage of revenue that defendants are required to pay in punitive damages decreases, if the punitive‐to‐compensatory ratio increases, and if the legal cost of filing an appeal increases.