Monday, July 7, 2014
Judge James Turk, who presided over federal court in Roanoke, Virginia for over 40 years, died Sunday at the age of 91. Turk is best known among torts enthusiasts as the presiding judge in the 1981 trial of Falwell v. Flynt. I practiced in front of him and found him a fair judge and a very warm and decent human being. The Roanoke Times has a notice.
Alberto Bernabe (The John Marshall Law School & Torts Blog) has posted to SSRN Civil Liability for Injuries Caused by Dogs after Tracey v. Solesky: New Path to the Future or Back to the Past?. The abstract provides:
Two years ago, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case called Tracey v. Solesky in which it modified the common law of the state related to strict liability in cases involving injuries caused by dogs. Although Solesky was neither a big departure from the applicable law at the time nor an adoption of the alternative, and more prevalent, view in other jurisdictions, the Maryland legislature eventually abrogated its holding entirely. As a result, the current applicable doctrine is a collage of different approaches and it is difficult to see how it protects victims of dog attacks more than they were protected before Solesky. This article reviews the tort law doctrines that operate to manage the costs of injuries caused by dogs and discusses the consequences of the approval of the new statute in Maryland. It concludes that instead of reverting back to the common law predating Solesky, a more careful balancing of the interests involved should have resulted in either adopting the prevalent view in the majority of jurisdictions or in an understanding of how Solesky actually advanced a better public policy than the common law it modified.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
Greg Keating (USC) has posted two pieces to SSRN. First, When Is Emotional Distress Harm?. The abstract provides:
In 1968, the California Supreme Court decided Dillon v. Legg, to this day the most famous American negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) case. In a nutshell, Dillon ruled that, henceforth, the scope of liability for negligent infliction of emotional harm would be governed by the same principle of reasonable foreseeability which governs the scope of liability for the infliction of physical harm. In retrospect, Dillon brought to a close an important period of American negligence law. Early in the twentieth century, in his celebrated MacPherson and Palsgraf decisions, Benjamin Cardozo made reasonable foreseeability the cornerstone of both duty and scope of liability (proximate cause). In extending the principle of reasonable foreseeability to cover emotional distress as well as physical harm, Dillon was fulfilling the premise and promise of Cardozo’s great decisions. Yet within twenty years, it became clear to the very same court that, although reasonable foreseeability sets reasonable boundaries to liability for physical harm, it licenses too much liability for emotional distress. In an ironic development, the principle of reasonable foreseeability embraced by Dillon v. Legg was recast as an arbitrary rule in Thing v. LaChusa. Ever since, courts and commentators have struggled to articulate principled boundaries for liability for NIED.
For the most part, courts have rested on the unsatisfying principle that liability must have some limit and pretty much any limit will do. The conventional wisdom is that this kind of arbitrary limitation is unavoidable. This chapter, prepared for the Obligations VII conference on Challenging Orthodoxy in Private Law, argues that progress may be made toward articulating principled boundaries for emotional injury by pursuing two paths. The first is taxonomical. NIED is about scope of liability; it is properly understood as a matter of proximate cause, not duty. The duty breached in Dillon v. Legg, for example, was the long-established duty to exercise reasonable care when driving an automobile. The question before the court was whether liability for breach of that duty extended to persons who foreseeably suffered severe emotional distress. What is true of this particular case is true generally: NIED does not ground new duties of care, it extends liability for breaches of preexisting, independently recognized, duties of care. This itself places boundaries on liability. The second path toward articulating principled boundaries on NIED liability is to inquire into the concept of harm and ask just when emotional distress counts as harm. Liability for negligence is, at its core, liability for physical harm and physical harm has long been understood in the law of negligence to mean physical impairment. Physical impairment, for its part, is impairment of normal physical capacities.
There is progress to be made in discrimination among instances of emotional distress by extending this idea of impairment to emotional injuries. Some emotional harms are impairments; to suffer them is to be left with impaired psychological capacities. Childhood sexual abuse, for example, characteristically leaves its victims with impaired capacities for trust. The death of one’s small child — the harm at issue in Dillon — is a harder case, but it seems intuitively correct to say that the death of a child often impairs the life of the parent in a profound way. Parents who witness the deaths of their children are often “never the same.” Part of the parent dies with the child, because the child’s life represents such a deep and irreplaceable investment of the parent’s agency. By asking when and why emotional suffering is not transient distress but enduring impairment it may be possible to make progress in limiting NIED liability in a principled, non-arbitrary manner.
Second, Strict Liability Wrongs; the abstract provides:
Strict liability is an orphan among moral theorists of torts. They wish either to expunge it from the law of torts entirely, or to assimilate it to negligence liability. This chapter argues that strict liability torts are genuine wrongs. They involve violations of rights, and they delineate two distinctive domains of wrongful conduct. One domain — the territory of “harm-based” strict liabilities — involves the distinctive wrong of harming-without-repairing. The other domain — the territory of “sovereignty torts” — involves the distinctive wrong of violating core autonomy rights which confer on persons fundamental powers of control over their selves and their property.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
The Tulane Law Review recently hosted "The Evolution of Asbestos Litigation: Enduring Issues and the Administration of Trusts." The articles are now available:
Edward F. Sherman, The Evolution of Asbestos Litigation, 88 Tul. L. Rev. 1021 (2014).
Georgene Vairo, Lessons Learned By the Reporter: Is Disaggregation the Answer to the Asbestos Mess?, 88 Tul. L. Rev. 1039 (2014).
Lester Brickman, Fraud and Abuse in Mesothelioma Litigation, 88 Tul. L. Rev. 1071 (2014).
Joseph Sanders, The “Every Exposure” Cases and the Beginning of the Asbestos Endgame, 88 Tul. L. Rev. 1153 (2014).
Peggy L. Ableman, A Case Study From a Judicial Perspective: How Fairness and Integrity in Asbestos Tort Litigation Can Be Undermined by Lack of Access to Bankruptcy Trust Claims, 88 Tul. L. Rev. 1185 (2014).
Anita Bernstein, Gender in Asbestos Law: Cui Bono? Cui Pacat?, 88 Tul. L. Rev. 11211 (2014).
The second set of articles from the April 2013 symposium at Widener, Perspectives on Mass Tort Litigation, are now available.
Christopher J. Robinette, Introduction, Part II Download Robinette Intro 2 - Ready for Pub. 6.21.14
Aaron Twerski & Lior Sapir, Sufficiency of the Evidence Does Not Meet the Daubert Standards: A Critique of the Green-Sanders Proposal Download Twerski - Ready for Pub. 6.17.14
Michael D. Green & Joseph Sanders, In Defense of Sufficiency: A Reply to Professor Twerski and Mr. Sapir Download Green - Ready for Pub. 6.18.14
William P. Shelley, Jacob C. Cohn & Joseph A. Arnold, Further Transparency Between the Tort System and Section 524(g) Asbestos Trusts, 2014 Update Download Shelley - Ready for Pub. 6.19.2014
Bruce Mattock, Andrew Sackett & Jason Shipp, Clearing Up the False Premises Underlying the Push for Asbestos Bankruptcy Trust "Transparency" Download Mattock - Ready for Pub. 6.18.14
Scott B. Cooper & Lara Antonuk, The Royal Nonesuch: How Tort Reformers Are Pulling One Over on Pennsylvania Download Cooper & Antonuk - Ready for Pub. 6.18.14
Congratulations to the Widener Law Journal for two great issues.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Mark Geistfeld (NYU) has posted to SSRN The Tort Entitlement to Physical Security as the Distributive Basis for Environmental, Health, and Safety Regulations. The abstract provides:
In a wide variety of contexts, individuals face a risk of being physically harmed by the conduct of others in the community. The extent to which the government protects individuals from such harmful behavior largely depends on the combined effect of administrative regulation, criminal law, and tort law. Unless these different departments are coordinated, the government cannot ensure that individuals are adequately secure from the cumulative threat of physical harm. What is adequate for this purpose depends on the underlying entitlement to physical security. What one has lost for purposes of legal analysis depends on what one what was entitled to in the first instance. For example, different specifications of the entitlement can produce substantially different measures of cost that fundamentally alter the type of safety regulations required by cost-benefit analysis, even for ordinary cases involving low risks. Consequently, any mode of safety regulation that requires an assessment of losses or costs ultimately depends on a prior specification of entitlements. For reasons of history and federalism, the entitlement to physical security in the United States can be derived from the common law of torts. In addition to establishing how costs should be measured, the tort entitlement also quantifies any distributive inequities that would be created by a safety standard and shows how they can be redressed within the safety regulation, thereby enabling federal regulatory agencies to conduct cost-benefit analyses that account for matters of distributive equity as required by Executive Order. When applied in this manner, the tort entitlement to physical security promotes substantive consistency across the different departments of law by serving as the distributive basis for environmental, health, and safety regulations that operate entirely outside of the tort system.
Friday, June 27, 2014
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Missouri issued an opinion in Coomer, the case of the fan injured by a flying hot dog. The court ruled that getting hit with a hot dog is not an inherent risk of baseball and the trial judge should not have allowed an assumption of risk instruction. The opinion is here. Alberto Bernabe, who has followed the case, has comments here. Michael McCann wrote a guest post for TortsProf in 2010 that foreshadowed the holding.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
There is new med mal data from my home state of Pennsylvania. Since the base years of 2000-2002, med mal cases in PA have declined 43%, with the biggest drop occuring in Philly (68%). In 2003, a certificate of merit requirement and venue restrictions went into effect. In 2013, 77% of jury verdicts were for the defense; 2 of 5 non-jury verdicts were for the defense.
Monday, June 23, 2014
The California Supreme Court held yesterday that a business has no common law duty to provide automatic defibrillators in anticipation that a customer will experience heart failure while on the premises. The decision (Verdugo v. Target) is here: Download S207313.
In 2006, Iowa State created the Center for Agricultural Law & Taxation. The Center's mission is to provide information to agricultural producers in important areas such as regulation and taxation. One of the Center's points of focus is tort law. Run by Roger McEowen, the Center keeps up with tort decisions and analyzes how they will impact agriculture. For example, the Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that neither the federal Clean Air Act nor the Iowa counterpart preempts common law claims of negligence, nuisance, and trespass against a grain processor (Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp., No. 13-0723, 2014 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 72 (Iowa Sup. Ct. Jun. 13, 2014). The Center's Kristine Tidgren analyzed the opinion and made the analysis available to producers (and the public).
Updated: The Center just added an annotation today about the Wisconsin Supreme Court's holding that spraying herbicides is an inherently dangerous activity and, therefore, a property owner may be liable for an independent contractor/sprayer's torts.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
New York is expanding a program that uses specially trained judges to negotiate early settlements in med mal cases. The uncertainty, delay, and transaction costs that undermine tort law are especially bad in med mal, so this program deserves attention. The Daily News has details.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Volume 6 of the Journal of Tort Law will contain a tribute to Jeffrey O'Connell, who died in January of 2013. Contributors are: Kenneth Abraham (Virginia), Nora Engstrom (Stanford), Mark Geistfeld (NYU), Bob Rabin (Stanford), Adam Scales (Rutgers-Camden), Tony Sebok (Cardozo), Zoe Sinel (Western Ontario), Ted White (Virginia), and me. John Goldberg graciously arranged the issue, which will appear in spring 2015.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Camille Carey (New Mexico) has posted to SSRN Domestic Violence Torts: Righting a Civil Wrong. The abstract provides:
Friday, June 13, 2014
Ronen Perry & Tal Zarsky (Haifa) have posted to SSRN Liability for Online Anonymous Speech: Comparative and Economic Analyses. The abstract provides:
This is a pre-edited draft of of an article presented in the special session of the Annual Conference on European Tort Law. The article examines various models for handling the problem of online anonymous defamation from comparative and economic perspectives. The comparative analysis reveals four main paradigms. The US model bars content providers’ indirect liability, but facilitates identification of the speaker. The Israeli model recognises content providers’ fault-based liability but does not provide procedural tools for identifying the speaker. The EU framework enables the victim to request identification of the speaker, and at the same time bring an action against the content provider. Although there is variance among Member States, this model seems to comply with the relevant Directives and European court decisions. The recently-adopted English model (‘residual indirect liability’) enables the victim to pursue a claim against the speaker and, if the speaker is unavailable, imposes liability on the content provider.
From an economic perspective, the main problem with exclusively direct liability is that the special effort in identifying and pursuing the anonymous speaker. Additional, yet probably less serious, problems are the high likelihood of judgment-proof defendants and high transaction costs which prevent a contractual transfer of the burden to the content provider when it is the cheapest cost avoider. The drawbacks of exclusively indirect liability are the relatively high cost of precautions, the fact that content providers do not capture the full social benefit of their activity, and the asymmetric legal response to errors with respect to ‘defamatoriness.’ Concurrent liability of the speaker and the content provider overcomes the high cost of identifying and pursuing anonymous speakers, and the problem of judgment-proof defendants. It also induces content providers to facilitate identification of anonymous speakers, increasing the likelihood of internalisation by primary wrongdoers. But concurrent liability has potentially conflicting effects on deterrence, and may result in an aggregation of the implementation costs of both direct and indirect liability. The residual indirect liability regime eliminates (or at least reduces significantly) the need for monitoring, and prevents over-deterrence associated with unaccounted benefits and asymmetric response to errors. It also incentivises content providers to reduce the cost of identifying anonymous wrongdoers, and does not raise the characteristic problems of multiple-defendants. This model may raise some difficulties but they seem either insignificant or solvable, making the English model (with some modifications) the most efficient.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Victims of a Saturn Ion crash in 2004 are suing GM to reopen a case over the death of one person and serious injuries of another. GM settled the case for $75,000 and argued the driver was 100% to blame. Now lawyers argue the case should be reopened in light of the recall of defective switches in many of GM's cars, including the Ion. The Chicago Tribune has the story.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Cathy Sharkey (NYU) has posted two pieces to SSRN. First up is Tort-Agency Partnerships in an Age of Preemption. The abstract provides:
At the core of the tort preemption cases before the U.S. Supreme Court is the extent to which state law can impose more stringent liability standards than federal law. The express preemption cases focus on whether the state law requirements are “different from, or in addition to” the federally imposed requirements. And the implied conflict preemption cases examine whether the state law standards are incompatible (impossibility preemption) or at least at odds (obstacle preemption) with the federal regulatory scheme.
But the preemption cases in the appellate pipeline — what I shall term the “second wave” of preemption cases — address a separate analytic question. Their focus is less on the substantive aspects of regulatory standards, and more on their enforcement. When can state tort law impose substantive duties or obligations that are “parallel” to federal requirements without thereby encroaching upon a federal agency’s discretionary enforcement prerogative? This is the new frontier in products liability preemption.
My proposed model suggests that courts facing these new issues should solicit input from federal agencies before resolving them. The model thereby offers a hybrid private-public model for the regulation of health and safety. It advocates an extension of my “agency reference model” to the “enforcement preemption” context: courts should place more emphasis on FDA input when deciding whether tort requirements are “parallel” to federal dictates, and (perhaps even more so) whether, even if they are, they nonetheless infringe on the federal agency’s discretionary enforcement prerogatives. Courts would thus seek guidance from federal agencies to determine whether a private right of action exists for the enforcement, via state law claims, of federal regulations.
Next is Agency Coordination in Consumer Protection, and the abstract provides:
The federalization of consumer protection has created thorny issues of agency coordination. When multiple federal agencies interpret and enforce the same statute, should a single agency’s interpretation be accorded Chevron deference? Should it matter whether it is in synch, or at odds, with its fellow agencies? This Article explores two agency coordination strategies that point in opposite directions. The first, a balkanization strategy, attempts to overcome the overlapping agency jurisdiction problem by urging agencies to create separate, non-overlapping spheres of authority to thereby regain Chevron deference due the agency that reigns supreme. We can expect “agency self-help measures” that stake out respective turfs to emerge from this strategy. Courts have accepted the balkanization approach — carving out discrete fiefdoms from spheres of overlapping agency jurisdiction — and may accept it more readily as the jurisprudence after City of Arlington develops with regard to agency interpretations of jurisdiction.
The second (and more novel) strategy, a model of judicial review as agency coordinator, exploits (rather than constrains) overlapping agency jurisdiction. Under this model, when faced with an interpretation by an agency that operates in shared regulatory space, courts would solicit input from the other relevant agencies. And, to the extent that there is agreement among the different agencies, Chevron deference would be especially warranted (regardless of whether all of those agencies were parties before the court), in sharp contrast to certain courts’ blanket stance that Chevron deference is inappropriate when multiple agencies interpret the same statute.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014