TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Thursday, January 12, 2017

JOTWELL Torts: Hershovitz on Cornell on the Connection Between Rights and Wrongs

At JOTWELL, Scott Hershovitz reviews Nicolas Cornell's Wrongs, Rights, and Third Parties.

January 12, 2017 in Scholarship, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Goldberg & Zipursky on Hohfeld

John Goldberg & Ben Zipursky have posted to SSRN Hohfeldian Analysis and the Separation of Rights and Powers.  The abstract provides:

At the time he wrote, Wesley Hohfeld seemed to be of the view that longstanding conceptual confusions that had blocked progress in legal thought — particularly confusions about legal rights — would soon be put to rest. If so, rights have proved a tougher nut to crack than he expected. Indeed, the difficulty of providing an adequate account of rights has led many scholars, including scholars who share Hohfeld’s aptitude and aspirations for analytic philosophy, to lose sight of a distinction central to Hohfeld’s project, namely, the distinction between a right (or claim right) and a power. Or so we argue in Part I. Worse, confusions over rights and powers, when combined with a particular understanding of what constitutes clear-eyed analysis of legal issues, has contributed to the now-widely shared but mistaken supposition that common law reasoning must (or should) take the form of instrumental reasoning. We outline this claim in Parts II and III.

Ultimately, we suggest that Hohfeld’s juristic legacy contains two profound ironies. His entirely sound insistence on the analytic separation of legal rights and legal powers has helped to obscure their deep substantive connection in certain bodies of law, especially tort and contract law. And his implicit acceptance of the idea that a commitment to conceptual clarity goes hand in hand with instrumentalism in legal analysis has indirectly led prominent courts — including most famously the California Supreme Court in landmark decisions such as Rowland v. Christian — to mangle how rights, duties, and powers are linked within private law.

(Via Solum/LTB, where it is the Download of the Week)

January 9, 2017 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Porat on Calabresi's "Future of Law and Economics"

Ariel Porat has posted to SSRN The Future of Law and Economics and the Calabresian External Moral Costs.  The abstract provides:

This short essay is a contribution to a symposium held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Professor Calabresi's "The Future of Law and Economics." It focuses on Calabresi's arguments that tort law facilitates a modified market for merit goods, and that external moral costs should be seriously taken into account by the state and the law in making and implementing difficult social choices. The essay points out two categories of situations where tort law fails to facilitate modified markets for merit goods, and highlights the hurdles in considering external moral costs at least in some cases.

January 3, 2017 in Books, Conferences, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

McPeak on Tort Liability in the Sharing Economy

Agnieszka McPeak (Toledo) has posted to SSRN Sharing Tort Liability in the New Sharing Economy.  The abstract provides:

The new sharing economy is forcing policymakers to reexamine current legal structures for several highly regulated industries, including taxi services. But in addition to regulation, tort law’s ability to adapt to the new sharing economy is an equally important concern, and one that few scholars have examined to date.

Although many sharing-economy companies, like ridesharing service Uber, merely purport to connect individuals to each other for the purposes of exchanging specific services, many of these companies are monetized, for-profit businesses that exert some level of control over the underlying commercial transaction. When an individual service provider, like an Uber driver, commits a tort, the victim may be under-compensated if that individual provider alone is liable. Holding the sharing-economy company vicariously liable may be appropriate for ensuring fairness for tort victims.

Fortunately, pre-existing tort principles — particularly vicarious liability concepts of respondeat superior, liability for independent contractors, and joint enterprise liability — already provide the framework for applying retrospective common law remedies in the sharing-economy context. Even though sharing-economy companies challenge the status quo with their innovative and non-traditional business approaches, pre-existing principles suffice to clarify tort liability in this new context. By liberally using the basic analysis and underlying policy rationales of existing vicarious liability concepts in particular, courts can ensure fairness under modern tort law, and policymakers can proceed with a holistic understanding of how retrospective remedies are well-poised to address some of the unique issues raised by the new sharing economy.

She's also blogging at Prawfs.

December 14, 2016 in Scholarship, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

McMichael, Van Horn, & Viscusi on Apology Laws

Benjamin McMichael, Lawrence Van Horn, and Kip Viscusi (all Vanderbilt) have posted to SSRN Sorry is Never Enough:  The Effect of State Apology Laws on Medical Malpractice Liability Risk.  The abstract provides:

State apology laws offer a separate avenue from traditional damages-centric tort reforms to promote communication between physicians and patients and to address potential medical malpractice liability. These laws facilitate apologies from physicians by excluding statements of apology from malpractice trials. Using a unique dataset that includes all malpractice claims for 90% of physicians practicing in a single specialty across the country, this study examines whether apology laws limit malpractice risk. For physicians who do not regularly perform surgery, apology laws increase the probability of facing a lawsuit and increase the average payment made to resolve a claim. For surgeons, apology laws do not have a substantial effect on the probability of facing a claim or the average payment made to resolve a claim. Overall, the evidence suggests that apology laws do not effectively limit medical malpractice liability risk.

December 13, 2016 in Legislation, Reforms, & Political News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gregory Keating Has Been Busy

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Abbott on AI Tort Liability

Ryan Abbott (Surrey Law/UCLA Med) has posted to SSRN Allocating Liability for Computer-Generated Torts.  The abstract provides:

Artificial intelligence is part of our daily lives. Whether working as taxi drivers, financial analysts, or police, computers are taking over a growing number of tasks once performed by people. As this Artificial intelligence is part of our daily lives. Whether working as taxi drivers, financial analysts, or police, computers are taking over a growing number of tasks once performed by people. As this occurs, computers will also cause the injuries inevitably associated with these activities. Accidents happen, and now computer-generated accidents happen. The recent fatality caused by Tesla’s autonomous driving software is just one example in a long series of “computer-generated torts.”

Yet hysteria over such injuries is misplaced. In fact, computers are, or at least have the potential to be, substantially safer than people. Self-driving cars will cause accidents, but they will cause fewer accidents than human drivers. Because automation will result in substantial safety benefits, tort law should encourage its adoption as a means of accident prevention.

Under current legal frameworks, manufacturers of computer tortfeasors are likely strictly responsible for their harms. This article argues that where a manufacturer can show that an autonomous computer is safer than a reasonable person, the manufacturer should be liable in negligence rather than strict liability. This would essentially treat a computer tortfeasor as a person rather than a product. It would create a powerful incentive to automate when it would reduce accidents, and it would continue to reward manufactures for improving safety.

In fact, principles of harm avoidance suggest that once computers become safer than people that human tortfeasors should no longer be judged against the standard of the hypothetical reasonable person that has been employed for hundreds of years. Rather, individuals should be compared to computers. To appropriate the immortal words of Justice Holmes, we are all “hasty and awkward” by comparison.

(Via Solum/LTB)

December 6, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

JOTWELL Torts: Goldberg on Goudkamp & Murphy on Tort Theory

At JOTWELL, John Goldberg reviews James Goudkamp & John Murphy's The Failure of Universal Theories of Tort Law.

December 1, 2016 in Scholarship, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Goldberg & Zipursky on Intermixture of Fault and Strict Liability

John Goldberg & Ben Zipursky have posted to SSRN The Strict Liability in Fault and the Fault in Strict Liability.  The abstract provides:

Tort scholars have long been obsessed with the dichotomy between strict liability and liability based on fault or wrongdoing. We argue that this is a false dichotomy. Torts such as battery, libel, negligence, and nuisance are wrongs, yet all are “strictly” defined in the sense of setting objective and thus quite demanding standards of conduct. We explain this basic insight under the heading of “the strict liability in fault.” We then turn to the special case of liability for abnormally dangerous activities, which at times really does involve liability without wrongdoing. Through an examination of this odd corner of tort law, we isolate “the fault in strict liability” — that is, the fault line between the wrongs-based form of strict liability that is frequently an aspect of tort liability and the wrongs-free form of strict liability that is found only within the very narrow domain of liability for abnormally dangerous activities. We conclude by defending these two features of the common law of tort: the strictness of the terms on which it defines wrongdoing and its begrudging willingness to recognize, in one special kind of case, liability without wrongdoing.

(Via Solum/LTB)

November 22, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wells on Heffernan v. City of Paterson

Michael Wells has posted to SSRN What did the Supreme Court Hold in Heffernan v. City of Paterson?.  The abstract provides:

As a favor to his mother, Jeffrey Heffernan picked up a political yard sign. His supervisors demoted him, in the mistaken belief that he had engaged in protected speech. In Heffernan v. City of Patterson, 136 S.Ct. 1412 (2016), the Supreme Court held that a public employee can sue a local government under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when a supervisor acts for constitutionally impermissible motives, even though he has not in fact exercised First Amendment rights. But the grounds for that holding are unclear. The Court may have ruled that the city, through its police chief, violated Heffernan’s First Amendment rights despite the lack of speech on his part. Or it may have ruled that the City is liable on § 1983 “official policy” grounds, even though it violated no constitutional right. This article examines each of these and argues that neither withstands scrutiny. A more convincing rationale for the outcome is that the Court in effect recognized a constitutional common law right. Alternatively, the arbitrary demotion may support recovery under the Equal Protection Clause on a “class of one” theory, though Jeffrey Heffernan did not pursue that approach and current doctrine seems hostile to it.

(Via Solum/LTB)

November 17, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Baker, Helland, & Klick on Texas Med Mal Settlements

Tom Baker, Eric Helland, and Jonathan Klick have posted to SSRN Everything's Bigger in Texas:  Except the Medmal Settlements.  The abstract provides:

Recent work using Texas closed claim data finds that physicians are rarely required to use personal assets in medical malpractice settlements even when plaintiffs secure judgments above the physician's insurance limits. In equilibrium, this should lead physicians to purchase less insurance. Qualitative research on the behavior of plaintiffs suggests that there is a norm under which plaintiffs agree not to pursue personal assets as long as defendants are not grossly underinsured. This norm operates as a soft constraint on physicians. All other things equal, while physicians want to lower their coverage, they do not want to violate the norm and trigger an attack on their personal assets. This constraint should be less effective when physicians have other ways to shield their assets, such as through large personal bankruptcy exemptions like those available in Texas. Settlement data from the National Practitioner Data Bank indicate that settlements in Texas are abnormally low, just as they are in other jurisdictions with unlimited homestead exemptions in bankruptcy. Consistent with theory, we find that more generous exemptions are also associated with lower insurance prices and lower levels of insurance coverage. These results suggest that the large "haircuts" and low insurance limits observed in the Texas data may be driven by Texas's generous bankruptcy provisions. At a minimum, Texas is not generally representative of other jurisdictions. This weakens the case for extrapolating conclusions from Texas data to other jurisdictions.

November 10, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sebok on Causation

Tony Sebok has posted to SSRN Actual Causation in the Second and Third Restatements:  Or, the Expulsion of the Substantial Factor Test.  The abstract provides:

This chapter contrasts the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical Harm’s Chapter Five (on Factual Cause) and Chapter Six (on Scope of Liability) with the treatment of causation in the Restatement (Second) of Torts’ Chapter 16 (“Legal Cause”). It was written for a book on causation in both common law and civilian jurisdictions.

The chapter examines in some detail the arguments that led the Reporters of the Third Restatement to reject the expression “substantial factor” and how the work done by this phrase in the domain of cause-in-fact was handled by and expanded conception but-for causation to which was added the idea of the “causal set model”, or NESS Test. The work done by the phrase “substantial factor” in the domain of proximate cause is now done by the concept of “scope of the risk” and variants of the risk rule.

The chapter emphasizes the seriousness with which the Third Restatement sought to remove from the question of cause-in-fact any subjective judgment it deemed a matter of proximate cause. The chapter points argues that this focus on rendering cause-in-fact judgments purely objective, when combined with the causal set model, produces a final product where much of the normative work that was once done in causation is now pushed off into questions of apportionment.

November 2, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

JOTWELL Torts: Scheuerman on Janssen on a Duty to Sell Life-Saving Medicine

Over at JOTWELL, Sheila Scheuerman has a review of William Janssen's A "Duty" to Continue Selling Medicines.

November 1, 2016 in Scholarship, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

2016 AALS Torts Section Newsletter

Stacey Tovino has done a great job putting together the Section's newsletter:   Download Newsletter (Oct. 2016) (1)

October 27, 2016 in Books, Conferences, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Farber on Trespass, Nuisance, and Privacy Torts as Applied to Drones

Hillary Farber has posted to SSRN Keep Out!  The Efficacy of Trespass, Nuisance and Privacy Torts as Applied to Drones.  The abstract provides:

The drone industry is burgeoning and there is boundless excitement over the potential civil and commercial applications of these aerial observers. Drones are also fun recreational toys that have more capabilities than their predecessor - the remote controlled helicopter. But along with the benefits comes the potential for misuse. More and more frequently concerned spectators are reporting drones flying around the windows of homes, backyards, and at beaches and sporting events. In some places people are even shooting them down.

We have entered a new frontier of aerial observation with the unmanned aircraft. As is often the case with new technology, drones (or unmanned aircraft systems as they are commonly referred) are outpacing the law. Controversies over whether a drone can hover above one’s property, capture images of those on the ground without consent, destroy a drone that is invading one's privacy are ripe legal issues. The question being asked by lawmakers, practitioners, journalists, and the general public is whether existing laws provide adequate remedies or whether this technology falls through a legal gap? This article sets out to answer that question at a time when lawmakers are feverishly proposing drone specific legislation, possibly duplicating laws already in place.

At present, 45 states have considered legislation seeking to regulate drones. Twenty-five states have passed laws that limit the use of drones. The majority of these laws include civil causes of action for capturing images and recordings of individuals by a drone without consent. Before more incidents ripen in to lawsuits, we need to evaluate whether our long-standing common law torts - trespass, nuisance, intrusion upon seclusion, and publication of private facts, offer remedies of equal or greater value than the drone specific legislation being considered. To the extent that common law torts fall short of providing adequate remedies at law, understanding their shortcomings will strengthen future drone legislation.

October 26, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dorfman on the Asymmetric Standard of Care in Negligence

Avi Dorfman has posted to SSRN Negligence and Accommodation.  The abstract provides:

Whereas the Restatement of Torts as well as leading economic and justice-based approaches to the explanation of the standard of reasonable care advocate symmetric measurement of reasonable care across the defendant/plaintiff distinction, this article demonstrates that, in fact, the law applies this standard asymmetrically. Defendants are expected to discharge an objectively-fixed amount of care, whereas plaintiffs are for the most part assessed by reference to a subjective measurement of reasonable care. Normatively, I argue that an asymmetric assessment of care, because it combines an unfavorable assessment of defendant’s negligence with a favorable assessment of plaintiff’s negligence, means that the victim gets to fix the terms of the interaction between them. This way of proceeding resonates well with a powerful egalitarian idea of accommodating, rather than overlooking, relevant differences—that is, treating the plaintiff and the defendant differently is necessary for the duty of reasonable care to give effect to the qualitative difference between the life and limb of the former, on the one hand, and the autonomy of the latter, on the other. Asymmetric assessment of due care, I argue, is the doctrinal metric by which the law determines what it is for the plaintiff and the defendant to relate as equals given that difference, which is to say to relate as substantively equals.

October 18, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Stein on the Domain of Torts

Alex Stein has posted to SSRN The Domain of Torts.  The abstract provides:

This Article advances a novel positive theory of the law of torts that grows out of a careful reading of the caselaw. My core insight is that the benefit from the harm-causing activity determines the form and substance of tort liability. This finding is both surprising and innovative, since the operation of the doctrines that determine individuals’ liability for accidents — negligence, causation and damage — is universally believed to be driven by harms, not benefits. The key role of benefits in the operation of our tort system has eluded the searching eye of scholars, even though it is fully consistent with the caselaw, as I repeatedly demonstrate in the Article.

Specifically, I show that our tort system operates in two parallel modes — private and public — rather than just one, as conventional accounts erroneously suggest. Furthermore, the system’s mode of operation and the rules allocating liability for accidental harm are dictated by the type of the benefit sought by the alleged tortfeasor. If the benefit sought by the tortfeasor is purely private, she will be held liable for the harm resulting from her actions whenever she exposes her victim to a nonreciprocal risk. The tort system never allows actors to inflict harm on others when the benefit they seek to derive from their activity is purely private, no matter how significant that private benefit is relative to the victim’s harm. The system consequently does not hesitate to discourage the production of private benefits even when they are economically more valuable than the victim’s safety. That is, in cases of private benefit tort law excludes cost-benefit analysis in favor of the reciprocity and equality principles. When the benefit that accompanies the harm-causing activity is public, by contrast, tort law adopts a strictly utilitarian approach and focuses exclusively on minimizing the cost of accidents and the cost of avoiding accidents as a total sum. Liability in such cases is imposed based on the famous Learned Hand formula (and similar formulations). Accordingly, if the benefit from the harm-causing activity is greater than the expected harm and precautions are too costly, no liability will be imposed. The consequent reduction in the victim’s protection is counterweighted by society’s need not to chill the production of public benefits that the victim enjoys on equal terms with all other members of her community.

This insight has far-reaching implications for tort doctrine and theory. Contemporary scholarly debates about our tort system’s goals interpret the system as promoting fairness and corrective justice or, alternatively, economic efficiency. I demonstrate, however, that this dichotomous view is fundamentally mistaken. Careful analysis of the caselaw reveals that our tort system promotes fairness and corrective justice only when it operates in the private mode, and that when the system switches to the public mode it aims at achieving economic balance between victims’ safety and the production of public benefits. My analysis also demonstrates that tort doctrine is best understood as accident law because it focuses predominantly on individuals’ mutually unwanted interactions, identified as accidents, as opposed to mutually wanted and coercive interactions regulated, respectively, by contract law and criminal law. As I explain in this Article, switches between these regulatory regimes, and between torts and regulatory laws, only occur as a result of doctrinal migrations.


October 11, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Arlen on Economic Analysis of Tort Liability

Jennifer Arlen has posted to SSRN Economic Analysis of Tort Liability for an Imperfect World.  The abstract provides:

Tort liability generally is not justified by the presence of risk-producing activities alone. It tends to be justified by the combination of risk-producing activities and information costs that impede alternative solutions, such as private contracting or ex ante regulation. The observation that tort liability is justified by information costs impacts economic analysis of tort liability. It highlights that economic analysis of optimal tort rules should employ economic models where information is costly. In addition, it reveals the goals of optimal tort liability often should include providing optimal incentives to risk-imposers and others to invest in information needed to identify and provide optimal level of care. This chapter presents economic analysis of optimal tort liability focusing on the use of liability where information is costly. It shows that incorporating endogenous costly information alters tort liability’s optimal structure and incentive effects, both as applied to individual injurers and risk-imposers operating within organizations.

October 3, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

JOTWELL Torts: Keating on Ewing on Corporate Responsibiilty and the Structure of Tort Law

Goldberg & Zipursky on the Supreme Court and Tort Law

John Goldberg & Ben Zipursky have posted to SSRN The Supreme Court's Stealth Return to the Common Law of Torts.  The abstract provides:

In its famous 1938 Erie decision, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed itself without power to make general common law. Yet while the rule of Erie remains, the Court has strayed from its spirit. Using two lines of cases as representative of a larger trend – one involving First Amendment limits on claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, and infliction of emotional distress, the other concerning the preemption of state products liability law – we explain how the Court has increasingly empowered federal courts to serve as fora in which repeat-player defendants are offered a ‘second bite at the apple.’ This is precisely the role for federal courts that Erie rejected.

(Via Solum/LTB)

September 29, 2016 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)