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Research Questions

  1. What are examples of how early assistance has played out in practice?
  2. What are the perceived benefits and drawbacks of early assistance from the viewpoints of different stakeholders, including victims, PRPs, insurers, and counsel?
  3. If early assistance is deemed useful, what are various options for encouraging PRPs to provide early assistance?

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, first responders, charitable aid organizations, and community members stabilize dangerous situations and prevent further personal injury, loss of life, and property damage. But when the disaster may have had an anthropogenic origin, the U.S. system of tort liability can also play a role in the recovery process. Those affected by the event may seek to recover their losses from the alleged potentially responsible parties (PRPs), advancing demands for compensation or other relief. Often, entities that appear to have contributed to the onset of the event take a defensive stance and refrain from offering any help at all to disaster victims until forced to by settlement or trial verdict, in fear that doing so might create the appearance of accepting full legal liability. In many instances, however, PRPs will immediately engage in an aggressive program that offers assistance to individuals, businesses, and local governments that have incurred losses, ranging from simply handing out vouchers for hotels and meals to evacuees to setting up sophisticated programs that facilitate the processing of claims for property damage, business disruption, medical expenses, and other losses. Often no release of liability is required to accept this aid. In this paper, the authors describe illustrative instances in which early assistance was offered, explore the benefits and drawbacks of early assistance from the perspective of different stakeholders, and examine potential options for encouraging PRPs to provide early assistance should policymakers decide that it is desirable to do so.

Key Findings

  • Implementing early assistance is not an unquestionably beneficial strategy for PRPs, at least not in terms of always reducing future litigation or improving public opinion.
  • Stakeholders expressed concern that early assistance relies on the uncertain assumption that corporations will refrain from taking advantage of victims at a highly vulnerable time in their lives.
  • The overall sense among interviewees was that providing early assistance was the "right thing to do" for a PRP and can have a positive effect.

Recommendations

  • Policymakers seeking to encourage PRPs to provide early assistance following human-made disasters may consider explicitly including early assistance as a factor to be considered in sentencing guidelines for criminal conduct.
  • They may also choose to add early assistance as a factor when determining civil statutory sanctions and to clarify how postincident behavior affects the size of punitive damages.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    How Early Assistance Works in Practice

  • Chapter Three

    Stakeholder Views of the Benefits and Drawbacks of Early Assistance

  • Chapter Four

    Potential Ways to Encourage PRPs to Provide Early Assistance

  • Chapter Five

    Concluding Thoughts

Research conducted by

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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