Risk Analysis in the United States Law: Cost Versus Risk

  • P. Ricci
  • L. Molton
Part of the Advances in Risk Analysis book series (AIRA, volume 2)


The evaluation of health risks is characterized by policy judgments which in the United States often lead to judicial review. Those judgments are buttressed by scientific determination of whether a substance will produce adverse health effects or whether a low probability event will have a large consequence, given that it occurs. Science is not able to provide answers with the certainty that the courts have been accustomed to deal with in other areas. “Transcientific” questions abound; answers are often provided by fiat. Thus, whoever bears the burden of proof faces considerable difficulty in showing that an adverse effect is not likely to occur. We analyze two recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, and other decisions, to establish what burden of proof and what balancing of costs and benefits are required under the law. We conclude that decision makers and the courts are troubled by the uncertainty surrounding risk assessments. Nevertheless, risk assessment provides information of fundamental importance for those making decisions involving public and occupational health.


Coke Oven Judicial Review American Petroleum Institute Lower Court Benzene Exposure 
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    There is a massive literature on theories of justice. The most significant general work in recent decades is John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971). There are also works applying justice principles to the distribution of health care, and theories of bioethics, which are usually formal philosphical theories applied to issues in the life sciencies. What is of special concern for risk policy is the application of a particular piece of a somewhat Utopian world view to a decision. For example, how can we value our special concern for the adverse impacts on the poorest group, and incorporate such values into the analysis?Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Ricci
    • 1
  • L. Molton
    • 2
  1. 1.Electric Power Research InstitutePalo AltoUSA
  2. 2.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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