'To Have and Have Not': Are Rich Litigious Plaintiffs Favored in Court?
NBER Working Paper No. 20945
A long-standing debate centers on the role of the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” in litigation. It is often suggested that wealthier plaintiffs are more likely to be repeat players, who tend to prevail in disputes before the courts. Do wealthy repeat players indeed capture courts and succeed in shaping legal rules regardless of the intent of policy makers? This paper employs a unique historical data set that allows a direct test of these hypotheses, including information on the wealth of participants in civil district courts, their occupations, and the total number of lawsuits filed by each litigant over a long period. The results show that repeat players indeed tended to be wealthier, in occupations that likely benefited from creating a reputation for uncooperative litigation strategies. However, outcomes in court were independent of wealth, and related more to the type of case. Far from being under the sway of the “Haves,” early courts functioned as an effective enforcement mechanism for extensive markets in debt, that likely promoted economic growth during this period.
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20945
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