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Friday, March 15, 2013

An Injury Law Constitution

I intended to blog this conference session-by-session starting yesterday, but a computer malfunction based on user error prevented it. 

Session One (Introduction and Chapter One)

Marshall began the conference by summarizing the thesis of his book, drawn from his study of injury law that has led him to believe that it has some of the qualities of a constitution.  He includes within injury law not only tort law, but also compensation systems like workers' comp and the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, and statutory safety regulation.  Shapo said the injury law constitution "embodies the tensions" within the field.  He pointed specifically to the tensions among efficiency and social and individual justice.  He also focused on the themes of choice, responsibility, and safety.

Bob Rabin was a commentator.  He praised Shapo for the use of a "wide-angle lens" on the subject.  He said it was an ambitious undertaking and stated he was in basic agreement with Shapo.  He noted, however, that he had a different focus.  Rabin said that while Shapo looks at injury law and sees a coherent constitution-like structure, he sees a patchwork design.  He noted the pragmatic and public policy constraints in each of the 3 areas of tort, compensation systems, and safety regulations.

Responding to comments, Shapo stated his work was more descriptive than normative and described the injury law constitution as a "series of battles with ebbs and flows."  As Shapo acknowledges, the injury law constitution does not provide a direct measuring rod for statutes and judicial decisions as does the traditional American conception of a constitution.  Based on that acknowledgement, comments and questions focused on the work done by his analogy to a constitution.  To me, it seems the most likely use of the analogy is to present injury law in a broader context than tort alone.  Additionally, Shapo's concept of the injury law constitution "embodying the tensions" is similar to the way the U.S. Constitution is viewed by many as providing a never-ending argument over government.  Shapo offers an alternative phrasing, "a constitutive injury law," for those who might prefer it.

Session Two (Chapters Two and Seven on Power)

Shapo began the session by stating that behind many tort cases is a concern over checking power.  In tort, he pointed to products liability, with its concern for the power of manufacturers, medical malpractice, IIED (with its focus on employment relationships and sexual harassment), and constitutional torts (a phrase he coined in a 1965 article), illustrating safety regulation, he pointed to OSHA, and for compensation systems, he pointed to workers' comp.

Cathy Sharkey began by stating that perhaps acting as a check on power was a further analogy to a constitution.  She stated a theme of the book was a preference for decisions at the "trench level," jurors in many cases.  She also questioned whether a concern with power would mean that tort should dominate contract in many instances.  Finally, she discussed preemption and pushed Shapo to focus more on it.

Comments and questions focused on power relationships in settlement, between federal and state law, and between plaintiffs and plaintiffs' attorneys.

The evening concluded with glowing tributes to Shapo from his colleagues and included statements from Judge Calabresi and Justice Scalia.

Session Three (Chapter Nine on Rationales)

Shapo was unfortunately late this morning because of a terrible car crash on Lake Shore Drive last night.  Anita Bernstein had to start speaking before his arrival.  She indicated that Shapo approved of a number of tort rationales:  safety, efficiency, freedom, corrective justice, apology, vindication, punishment, social justice, uniformity, and rationality.  She discerned a normative streak hidden in Shapo's descriptive project.  She stated that one needed to consult his prior writings to see what he disapproves of.  The list includes:  "dangerous products," an "obsession with comparative institutional analysis," and "failure to give sufficient weight to competing points of view."

Comments and questions focused on whether Shapo had a clear hierarchy for his list of rationales.  Shapo was able to join the session at this point and acknowledged he considered himself a pluralist and was not attempting to present a unifying theory or hierarchy.  Instead, his goal was to identify a catalog of rationales, goals, and purposes.

Session Four (Conclusion)

Shapo began the final session by revisiting the tension between the individual and society.  He then discussed Judge Hand's tribute to Judge Cardozo, in which he said the wise man was the detached man.  He referred to examples pro and con on judging as ideological, on the one hand, and nonpartisan, on the other.  Referring to a phrase used by a foreign correspondent he found in research before he went to law school, Shapo concluded by saying he hoped his work captured the "smell of the streets."

Jacqueline Zins, the former Deputy Special Master for the 9/11 Fund, was the commentator for this session, focusing on the role of compensation systems in Shapo's injury law constitution.  She detailed the statute creating the 9/11 Fund and all of its gaps.  She further detailed how Ken Feinberg, as Special Master, filled in those gaps.  Much of his focus was on equality and compassion. 

Comments and questions focused on the differences between the Fund and tort law, as well as Zins's declaration (mirroring Feinberg) that the Fund was unique and would not be repeated.

--CJR

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