Cumulative Risk in Law: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Todd Clifton

Todd Clifton has a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice, has a M.S. degree in Management & Leadership, has a diploma in private investigation, and has helped former criminals reenter free society.

Cumulative risk in law is used to determine the proper decisions to be made, especially by regulatory agencies. It is a vital component of the legal system that affects the lives of all people. Defining and managing cumulative risk is important in many situations.


Tim is an adventurous young man who enjoys any opportunity to experience life to the fullest. Before he became a police officer he would often dive off the cliffs near his home and into the waiting ocean. He also worked at the zoo for the thrill of being near dangerous creatures. One of the reasons Tim became a policeman was to experience more adventure in a job that also served the community. He thought his daring spirit could be used to benefit the rest of society. One important concept that Tim needed to learn involves cumulative risk.

Cumulative Risk Defined

Cumulative risk is the chance that a particular event will happen during a specified period of time. For example, if Tim patrols a neighborhood street on foot once a week for the next six months what are the chances that a crime will happen in his presence during that time? According to cumulative risk, the more time that Tim spends on that street, the more likely a crime will be committed in his presence. Even though his presence alone acts as a deterrent for those who may commit a crime, the increased amount of time spent in the neighborhood provides an increased amount of opportunities.

Cumulative risk assessment analyzes the combined risk to people from various products, actions, and situations. The first step in cumulative risk assessment is to research the possible negative impacts from the products, actions, and situations. The second step is understanding the amount of risk that develops over time. Finally, a plan is put in place to lessen the risk.

Decisions Based On Cumulative Risk

Decisions that are derived from cumulative risk assessment attempt to lessen the chances of an event from occurring. This can be understood more fully by considering the development of new pharmaceutical drugs that are used to treat health problems. The chances of various side effects manifesting themselves must be carefully considered. A lawsuit from a negatively affected customer is never good. If some drugs that are taken for pain relief are repeatedly used over time, they may also cause a person's blood to become thinner. In extreme cases this can make it difficult to stop bleeding if the person is injured. A person needs to weigh the benefit of pain relief against the danger of thinner blood. While those who develop and manufacture new drugs must take into consideration the cumulative risks associated with the new drugs, the person who actually takes the drugs must also be cautious. The cumulative risk that the legal drug industry deals with is vitally important.

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