"Optimal Agency Contracts: The Effect of Vicarious Liability and Judicial Error"

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
International Review of Law and Economics
Publication Type
Journal Article

Under the doctrine of vicarious liability, a deep-pocket principal is often held responsible for a third-party harm caused by a judgment-proof agent’s negligence. We analyze the incentive contract used by the principal to control the agent’s behavior when a court can make an error in determining the agent’s negligence. We show that (1) reducing the error of declaring the agent not negligent even when he was (pro-defendant or type II error) is better than reducing the error of declaring the agent negligent even when he was not (pro-plaintiff or type I error) and (2) allowing the principal to penalize the agent even when the court declares the agent not negligent improves welfare. The latter supports the argument that causing an accident (or a reliable allegation of misconduct) should be sufficient to justify a “just cause” termination of an employee.

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