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Corporate responsibility, Business liability, Corporate wrongdoing, Public attitudes toward business, Deep pockets effect, Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Twilight Zone--The Movie


Business Organizations Law | Law and Psychology | Litigation | Torts


One of the most striking phenomena in the contemporary legal world is the shift toward holding businesses and corporations responsible for harm. Legal theorists and historians maintain that today business corporations are expected to provide compensation for injuries that in earlier times would have been attributed to individuals or to fate. Furthermore, criminal charges against businesses and business executives are becoming commonplace.

Despite a good deal of legal scholarship on the shift toward holding businesses culpable for harms, psychologists have conducted little systematic research on public views of corporate responsibility. How do people conceptualize the civil liability or criminal responsibility of such group entities? Does it differ significantly from the way in which they conceive of individual responsibility? Under what circumstances are people likely to hold corporations and other groups, as opposed to individuals, culpable for harms?

The Bhopal and Exxon cases raise a tangled web of issues pertaining to the responsibilities of business and corporate entities. For scholars working at the interface of psychology and law, who study how law influences and is affected by individuals, groups, and the social environment, the topic of corporate responsibility is especially pertinent. This article examines psycholegal aspects of corporate responsibility for wrongdoing, focusing in particular on public attitudes toward the responsibilities of corporations for harm caused by the corporations. The article draws on psychological theory and method to study the factors that lead people to hold corporations culpable for harms. One aim of the article is to begin to develop a systematic account of such judgment processes.

Publication Citation

Published in: Nebraska Law Review, vol. 69, no. 1 (1990).