TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Legos & Harry Potter

We traveled to Orlando last weekend.  My wife and I ran the Disney Half Marathon, and then she ran the Disney Full Marathon the next day, because she is Capital-C Crazy.  And amazing.

But first we went to LegoLand, which reminded me of this excellent (if nitpickable) Lego stop-motion telling of Palsgraf.  I showed it in my Torts class last night:


We also went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a remarkable theme park within the already-remarkable Islands of Adventure.  I particularly enjoyed the way they even themed the warning signs, perhaps increasing the number of people who will actually read them:



January 12, 2012 in Teaching Torts, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Goldberg & Zipursky Respond to the Quandaries Facing Civil Recourse Theory

In December, Alan Calnan offered four quandaries facing John Goldberg's and Ben Zipursky's civil recourse theory.  John and Ben have responded:

It should be said in advance that Alan Calnan has been a consistent and thoughtful critic of civil recourse theory over the past several years.   Like John Finnis, Jane Stapleton, Ernest Weinrib, and many others, Profesor Calnan is among those to whom we have delayed too long in responding.  But better late than never.  

What follows is each of Alan's points, followed by John's and Ben's response.

1.  How can civil recourse theory be viewed as an accurate, complete, and unified description of tort law when it ignores both the numerous instrumental (nonwrongs-based) theories of strict liability, and the pervasive instrumental (nonwrongs-based) considerations actively shaping and transforming wrongs-based theories like negligence?

 For Rylands and abnormally dangerous activities, we accept that there is strict liability of a form that can only be categorized as “wrongs-based” if one relaxes the meaning of “wrongs” so greatly as to deprive it of meaning; as to these torts, we accept that a wrongs-based framework is incomplete.   However, we have argued that: (a) all of the other putative areas of strict liability – products, vicarious liability, trespass torts, etcetera -- are actually wrongs-based in a significant sense; (b) the Rylands et al constitute only a very small fragment of all of tort law; (c) even as to Rylands et al., they fall into a hybrid category something like promissory estoppels in contract or strict liability in criminal law, such that there were good reasons for courts to take a position that essentially abandoned a critical feature of the law in a narrowly limited area, while still counting cases as being part of that area.  

 As to instrumental considerations actively shaping the nature of what the courts or legislatures are willing to count as “wrongs,” there is no reason to treat this important phenomenon as inconsistent with a wrongs-based account.  

2.  How can the right to sue (take recourse) in tort be premised on the existence of a legal wrong if (1) the determination of a legal wrong typically is not made until long after the action is filed, and (2) often (in at least 50% of tried cases) results in a finding that no wrong in fact was done?

The right to sue does not come from having been wronged.  The right to exact a remedy is premised on having been legally wronged.  The right to sue is a procedural right afforded to those who have a good faith belief (for which they can supply some articulate basis) that they have a right to exact a remedy. 

3.  How can tort law best be understood as empowering victims to rectify civil wrongs (as stated in the panel summary) when the very purpose of both the law’s substance (which specifies things the plaintiff MUST prove to rectify a wrong) and its procedure (which specifies things the plaintiff MUST do to pursue such rectification) is to create impediments for the party seeking recourse and protections for the party being sued?

Challenge 3 is largely responded to by Response 2, above.  We must add, however, that the legal system recognizes procedural rights to defend oneself against those asserting a right to exact a remedy.  There is no inconsistency in recognizing both sorts of rights.  The state does not generally mean to put impediments there for those who have a right to exact a remedy.  It means to put protections there for those who are subject to demands by those alleging they have such a right.  Obviously, our system aims to design the procedural rights to sue and the procedural protections from liability in such a way that they facilitate the provision of remedies for those who were in fact wronged and only for those.   Affirmative defenses like statutes of limitation and immunities and assumption of risk will require a variety of other explanations, which we (and others, such as Jason Solomon) have undertaken to provide.

4.  How does the “constitutional” right to civil recourse square with the historic due process right to protect citizens from arbitrary state action, including presumably the state’s action of taking sides in a private dispute by hosting and facilitating one party’s unproven, liberty-infringing (civil) attack against another?

The state is only supposed to take sides in tort suits in the way that courts take sides in adjudication generally.  It is – at least at a general level -- part and parcel of thinking someone has legal rights not to be mistreated in various ways that the legal system will not typically remain indifferent to a proven claim that such a legal right by one person was infringed by another, but will entertain a demand for recourse by one whose legal right so infringed against the infringer.  So long as the state continues to prohibit non-civil responsive conduct by those who have been wronged or mistreated or whose rights have been infringed, the state’s being willing to act responsively, in civil litigation, to such a demand strikes me as more consistent with the state maintaining a stance of non-arbitrariness or neutrality as between private persons than: (A) prohibiting non-civil  responsive conduct by victims, and: (B) remaining passive in the face of civil demands for redress (assuming that many tortuous wrongs are not actionable except for civil tort actions).   The latter stance strikes me as arbitrarily favoring injurers over victims.


January 12, 2012 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hammontree v. Jenner: Photos!

Kyle Graham (Santa Clara) just happened to be in the area where the automobile accident occurred that resulted in Hammontree v. Jenner.  He snapped pictures of the intersection and the store that now stands where the bicycle shop once stood.

Hammontree Intersection

More at CoOp:


January 11, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TortsProf Professors of the Year

Congratulations to these TortsProfs, who won "Professor of the Year" at their schools in 2011:

Kevin Brown (Indiana-Bloomington), Andy Klein (Indiana-Indianapolis), Christina Bohannan (Iowa), Mary Davis (Kentucky), Kyle Graham (Santa Clara), and John Watts (Texas Tech).  Did I miss anyone?

Also congratulations to Geoff Rapp (Toledo) on his new chair; he is the Harold A. Anderson Professor of Law and Values.


January 10, 2012 in TortsProfs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Barrister Blog

I have to give a shout out to Dean Lisa Smith-Butler for the new blog launched by the Charleston School of Law Library: The Barrister.   The blog contains case notes, research tips and interesting news items.


January 9, 2012 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)