Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marketing (Business Administration)

First Advisor

William R. Darden


This study strives to provide a better understanding of consumer evaluation of product liability cases. A model of consumer perceptions of the liability process, based predominantly on attribution theory, is developed and tested. The research first develops a general attributional model of the liability process, identifies relevant managerially-controllable dimensions of liability cases, and then tests consumer reaction to these factors utilizing experimental scenarios. The influence of several consumer-juror individual difference variables on the evaluation of liability cases is examined. In addition, potential mediators of the product liability process, including assessment of responsibility and affective evaluation of the plaintiff and defendant, are investigated. The research hypotheses are tested on a sample of 384 adults from a major southeastern metropolitan area. The sample very closely matches that of the populations across a variety of demographic characteristics. The results of the study tend to support the proposed attributional model of the liability process and the research hypotheses developed from the model. Thirty-three of the fifty-eight research hypotheses are supported by the analysis of the research data. The supported hypotheses provide evidence that both factors controllable by marketing managers and individual difference characteristics of consumer-jurors impact the assessment of product-related injuries. At the same time, the study offers support for the theoretical structure of the attributional process proposed by Kelley and Michela (1980), refined by Weiner (1985), and further developed in the current study. This research makes a contribution from both a managerial and theoretical perspective. The study combines the marketing and legal disciplines, and compliments and extends areas of psychological research. Marketing managers will directly benefit from increased knowledge of consumer reaction to the manipulation of marketing mix variables. Likewise, liability attorneys will gain insight into the effect of individual differences among jurors in liability cases. Finally, an important theory is extended by testing under extreme conditions. Implications for theory development, marketing management, and public policy are provided.