The Psychology of Tort Law

320 pages

7 figures, 3 tables

January, 2016

ISBN: 9781479814183



Also available in



Part of the Psychology and the Law series


Jennifer K. Robbennolt is the Alice Curtis Campbell Professor Law and Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois. She is co-author of the recent book Psychology for Lawyers: Understanding the Human Factors in Negotiation, Litigation, and Decision Making and the influential casebook, Dispute Resolution and Lawyers.

All books by Jennifer K. Robbennolt

Valerie P. Hans is Professor of Law at Cornell Law School (NY). She is the author of seven books, including American Juries: The Verdict.

All books by Valerie P. Hans

Tort law regulates most human activities: from driving a car to using consumer products to providing or receiving medical care. Injuries caused by dog bites, slips and falls, fender benders, bridge collapses, adverse reactions to a medication, bar fights, oil spills, and more all implicate the law of torts. The rules and procedures by which tort cases are resolved engage deeply-held intuitions about justice, causation, intentionality, and the obligations that we owe to one another. Tort rules and procedures also generate significant controversy—most visibly in political debates over tort reform.
The Psychology of Tort Law explores tort law through the lens of psychological science. Drawing on a wealth of psychological research and their own experiences teaching and researching tort law, Jennifer K. Robbennolt and Valerie P. Hans examine the psychological assumptions that underlie doctrinal rules. They explore how tort law influences the behavior and decision-making of potential plaintiffs and defendants, examining how doctors and patients, drivers, manufacturers and purchasers of products, property owners, and others make decisions against the backdrop of tort law. They show how the judges and jurors who decide tort claims are influenced by psychological phenomena in deciding cases. And they reveal how plaintiffs, defendants, and their attorneys resolve tort disputes in the shadow of tort law. 
Robbennolt and Hans here shed fascinating light on the tort system, and on the psychological dynamics which undergird its functioning. 


  • "This book series is off to a fantastic start with this volume on tort law. . . .  [The volume] is expansive but highly engaging and readable. The authors, both psychologists teaching in law schools, maximize the utility of their efforts by bringing normally scattered psychological research findings to bear on core concepts in the law. Those who believe that the law should develop its doctrines with reference to human psychology will be immensely aided in their efforts to achieve that objective by the availability of this comprehensive but very accessible review of existing psychological research findings relevant to tort law.”

    —Tom R. Tyler, Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, Yale University

  • “Robbennolt and Hans, both law professors with PhDs in psychology, have created the first comprehensive analysis of the insights about torts provided by modern cognitive and social psychology. This innovative volume offers an inviting guide to the psychology of tort law and the decision making of plaintiffs, defendants, judges, and juries.  Teaching torts should never be the same.”

    —Shari Seidman Diamond, Howard J. Trienens Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University

  • "Provides an engaging description of how human psychology influences both the development of tort law and policy and the decisions of litigants, lawyers, judges, and jurors as they navigate the American civil justice system. Their explanations of psychological theory include cutting-edge empirical research and vivid descriptions of classic court cases that lawyers will immediately recognize from law school as well as contemporary cases drawn from today’s headlines. For lawyers, the volume offers valuable insights about how judges and jurors are likely to interpret evidence presented at trial. For policymakers, it highlights the conflicts that arise when human intuition diverges from traditional principles of tort law. And it challenges researchers in social psychology and law with a host of unexplored topics to investigate."

    —Paula Hannaford-Agor, Director, Center for Jury Studies, National Center for State Courts

  • “For law-minded psychologists who have tended to focus on matters of criminal law, [Robbennolt and Hans] have opened a window onto an entirely new landscape of interesting legal issues to examine.”


  • “The book is a good introduction to the psychological perspective and a well-organized summary of what social scientists have so far discovered. It may be useful in social science courses covering decision making.