TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tort Law in William Howard Taft's Inaugural Address

Yesterday I asked which inaugural address contained a direct discussion of tort law.  The answer is William Howard Taft's, delivered on March 4, 1909.  Taft discussed the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) toward the end of his address:

There is one other matter to which I shall refer. It was made the subject of great controversy during the election and calls for at least a passing reference now. My distinguished predecessor has given much attention to the cause of labor, with whose struggle for better things he has shown the sincerest sympathy. At his instance Congress has passed the bill fixing the liability of interstate carriers to their employees for injury sustained in the course of employment, abolishing the rule of fellow-servant and the common-law rule as to contributory negligence, and substituting therefor the so-called rule of "comparative negligence."

Only a few months earlier,Theodore Roosevelt discussed tort law and workers' compensation in the State of the Union address (notice the early December date in 1908).  Here's a taste:

Our present system, or rather no system, works dreadful wrong, and is of benefit to only one class of people--the lawyers. When a workman is injured what he needs is not an expensive and doubtful lawsuit, but the certainty of relief through immediate administrative action. The number of accidents which result in the death or crippling of wageworkers, in the Union at large, is simply appalling; in a very few years it runs up a total far in excess of the aggregate of the dead and wounded in any modern war. No academic theory about "freedom of contract" or "constitutional liberty to contract" should be permitted to interfere with this and similar        movements. Progress in civilization has everywhere meant a limitation and regulation of contract.

Does anyone know of other State of the Union addresses that included tort law?  I seem to recall George W. Bush referring to it. 


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According to Wiki, in the 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama mentioned medical malpractice reform to "cut down on frivolous lawsuits" and save the government money.

Posted by: Tony Francis | Sep 20, 2012 7:13:32 AM

Bush 43 in 2005 talked about med mal, class action and asbestos tort reform.

Posted by: TPM | Sep 20, 2012 2:46:41 PM

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