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An overview of large technological systems in society to ascertain the prevalence of situations that can lead to catastrophic effects where the resultant liabilities far exceed the insurance or assets subject to suit in court, thereby imposing de facto limits on liability. Several potential situations are examined, including dam rupture, aircraft crash into a sports stadium, chemical plant accident, shipping disaster, and a toxic drug disaster. These events are estimated to have annual probabilities similar to or larger than a major nuclear accident. All are found to involve potential liability far exceeding the available resources, whether they be insurance, corporation assets, or government revenues. If limits on liability represent an important problem for society, the problem is general and should be dealt with from that perspective.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.