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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Torts in the Bridge Closure?

My Widener colleague, John Culhane, often writes for Slate.  He is thinking through a piece about potential torts in the George Washington Bridge closure and asked me to post the following:


Does anyone want to weigh in on whether the BridgeGate scandal currently engulfing the Christie Administration is likely to result in successful tort litigation against state officials by those who suffered economic loss because of the traffic nightmares? The first hurdle would be the extent of sovereign immunity for intentional bad acts in New Jersey (which I'm hoping someone just knows!), but the more interesting questions have to do with whether the economic loss rule, which applies to accidental harm cases, would prevent suits for this kind of intentional misconduct. I'm thinking that New Jersey would be one state where the claim might have some traction, because of the People Express case, 495 A.2d 107 (N.J. 1985) (not much followed, but not overruled as far as I can tell), which expresses a broadly progressive view of tort liability. I'm also thinking that there's some traction in the interference with economic relations cases, even though these usually require specific intent to interfere with an economic relationship rather than an intent to do some other kind of harm (such as a battery, or, in this case, to make life miserable for the Ft. Lee mayor (as if he didn't have enough problems already!).

Any thoughts, torts colleagues?

You can respond in the comments or e-mail John directly at jgculhane@widener.edu .

--CJR

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THE CLASS ACTION LAW SUIT HAS NOW BEEN FILED

Christie Bridge Apology Not Enough - Law Suits Needed
Victims Are Entitled to Monetary Compensation and Full Disclosure

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 10, 2014): Governor Chris Christie's apology for the massive gridlock and lengthy unnecessary delays in Ft. Lee, New Jersey - now admittedly caused deliberately for political reasons by various government officials - does little for the victims and is obviously insufficient, argues public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

He says that the family of the woman who died, the people whose medical conditions were exacerbated, those who lost valuable time from work or school, and most other commuters who suffered harm from the manufactured delays can and should sue for monetary compensation.

"Whether or not the U.S. Attorney's already-begun investigation concludes that the admitted conduct was criminal, it clearly was wrongful, and civil tort suits are designed to require those who engage in wrongful conduct to compensate the victims, and not just offer belated apologies," says Banzhaf.

He says the many different victims can and should sue those responsible, including not just the individuals, but also their governmental units where appropriate.

Class action law suits for wrongful death, medical injuries, false imprisonment, civil conspiracy, and other torts (civil wrongs) are the appropriate remedies to provide both some measure of financial compensation, and also to deter any similar wrongful conduct in the future, argues Banzhaf.

Banzhaf notes that he succeeded with novel legal theories in suing tobacco companies, fast food companies, soft drink companies, and even Spiro T. Agnew to recover the bribes he received.

He has been called "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars," and "The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry."

In addition to providing compensation for those who suffered from the politically motivated traffic jams, filing law suits may provide the best if not the only way to get to the bottom of the entire situation, and to be sure how far and to whom prior knowledge of the conspiracy extended.

The U.S. Attorney's authority extends only to federal crimes, and investigations by legislators tend to be notoriously inefficient as well as rife with political influence, argues Banzhaf.

On the other hand, a lawyer who will be entitled to a large fee only if his clients win, and with the authority under pre-trial discovery rules to require disclosure of all relevant documents, as well as to put all those possibly involved under oath, is more likely to discover the full truth, and to have it be trusted by the public when it is presented in court.

As the old saying goes, "never underestimate the tenacity of an attorney on a contingency fee," suggests Banzhaf.

JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
http://banzhaf.net/ @profbanzhaf

Posted by: Law Prof John Banzhaf | Jan 14, 2014 5:47:30 AM

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