Thursday, May 21, 2015
Tom Baker & Rick Swedloff have posted to SSRN Liability Insurer Data as a Window on Lawyers' Professional Liability. The abstract provides:
Using the best publicly available data on lawyers’ liability claims and insurance – from the largest insurer of large law firms in the U.S., the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Professional Liability, and a summary of large claims from a leading insurance broker – this article reports the frequency of lawyers’ liability claims, the distribution and cost of claims by type of practice, the disposition of claims, and lawyers liability insurance premiums from the early 1980s to 2013. Notable findings include remarkable stability over thirty years in the distribution of claims by area of practice among both small and large firms, a large percentage of claims (64-70%) involving de minimus expense (less than $1000) in the small firm market, and in the large firm market a declining rate of “real claims” per 1000 lawyers, a declining rate of real average gross loss per claim, and stable real premiums per lawyer since the early 1990s. Because of data limitations, however, these results cannot be confidently generalized. Further advances in the understanding of lawyers’ liability and insurance will require qualitative research.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Aaron Twerski & James Henderson have posted to SSRN Drug Design Liability: Farewell to Comment K. The abstract provides:
Half a century ago the reporter for the Second Restatement of Torts, William Prosser, drafted Comment k to § 402A, defining the liability of drug companies for defective prescription products. Prosser’s attempt to shelter drugs from design defect liability has confused courts and commentators alike. Courts at first interpreted Comment k to immunize drug manufactures from design-based liability; more recently, a growing number have begun to interpret the Comment to allow such actions. However, there is wide disagreement regarding the conditions under which courts should permit drug design claims. Courts have articulated no fewer than eight different tests, all relying on Comment k. This article examines the historical origins of Comment k and explains why it has confused so many judges and academics. The authors argue that the tests adopted by courts in reliance on Comment k are seriously flawed. In its stead, the article advocates that a drug manufacturer should held liable for defective drug design only when the drug is not fit for use by any class of patients. All other drug-related claims should be based on findings that the drug either contained a manufacturing defect or was marketed with inadequate warnings.
Friday, May 8, 2015
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Ronen Perry (Haifa) has posted to SSRN Pluralistic Legal Theories: In Search of a Common Denominator. The abstract provides:
This Essay embarks on a meta-theoretical project to provide a unifying philosophical framework for pluralistic legal theories. Put differently, it seeks to identify a structural common denominator for all pluralistic theories of law, with a particular emphasis on private law (torts and contracts). The Essay first rejects the notion of complementarity coined by Nobel Prize laureate Niels Bohr, and applied to legal theory by Izhak Englard. It then advocates the allegedly Thomist aphorism hominem unius libri timeo (“I fear the man of a single book”), and connects it to Isaiah Berlin’s renowned distinction between the hedgehog and the fox.
Friday, May 1, 2015
Elizabeth Chamblee Burch (Georgia) has posted to SSRN Constructing Issue Classes. The abstract provides:
As government budgets shrink each year, enforcement responsibilities in products liability, consumer protection, and employment discrimination fall increasingly to private attorneys. But defendants have successfully layered new objections about noncohesive classes and unascertainable members atop legislative and judicial reforms to cripple plaintiffs’ attorneys’ chief weapon — the class action. The result? Courts deny class certification and defendants escape enforcement by highlighting the differences among those affected by their misconduct. At the other end of the regulatory spectrum lies the opposite problem. Some defendants’ actions are so egregious that hordes of public and private regulators can’t help but get involved — think the GM ignition switch debacle or the BP Oil Spill, for example. Whether regulators are chasing splashy headlines, easy money, or public support, the result is a cacophony of litigation in dispersed fora that risks inefficient resource use and inconsistent verdicts regarding a defendant’s conduct.
A one-line sentence buried within Rule 23 offers a partial elixir for problems at both ends of the enforcement spectrum. That sentence, Rule 23(c)(4), allows courts to certify certain issues for class treatment. While issue certification is experiencing a renaissance in the courts, scholarship has stagnated. Commentators have fixated on the technical to-be-or-not-to-be question of how to read Rule 23(c)(4) within the rule’s predominance requirement. But they have offered strikingly little theory or guidance on how issue classes might revive private enforcement and coordinate fractured regulatory responses through issue preclusion.
This Article aims to fill that void with an alternative theory of class cohesion — a term that appears nowhere in Rule 23, but has emerged at the center of Supreme Court jurisprudence. This theory not only informs the class-certification calculus by identifying core questions ripe for issue-class adjudication, but also simplifies vexing questions over the sufficiency of aggregate proof and class members’ ascertainability. Shedding anachronistic, stereotypical notions that immutable characteristics like gender and race fuse members into a cohesive class can reveal what often unites groups for adjudication purposes: defendant’s uniform conduct. When a defendant’s actions are non-individuated (GM’s failure to take appropriate safety precautions, for example), litigating the components within a claim or defense that regulate defendant’s conduct on a classwide basis can revive private enforcement and stymie inconsistent outcomes through preclusion.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Karen Blum (Suffolk) has posted to SSRN Section 1983 Litigation: The Maze, the Mud, and the Madness. The abstract provides:
This piece reflects on what I perceive to be the major analytical and practical failures of Section 1983 jurisprudence as it has been shaped by the Supreme Court since the watershed case of Monroe v. Pape. Based on 40 years of academic involvement with both judges and lawyers who struggle with the various doctrines the Court has promulgated in the wake of Monroe, I highlight those areas that have become truly unintelligible, nonsensical, and incoherent. There is a growing consensus among practitioners, scholars, and judges that Section 1983 is no longer serving its original and intended function as a vehicle for remedying violations of constitutional rights, that it is broken in many ways, and that it is sorely in need of repairs. The primary focus of this article is on the befuddled jurisprudence, “the madness,” surrounding the defense of qualified immunity. I begin, however, with some brief observations about “the maze” built to sustain the direct vs. vicarious line drawn in the context of municipal liability and “the mud” that Iqbal has deposited with respect to issues of liability of supervisors. Problems plaintiffs have manipulating through the maze of municipal liability doctrine and wading through the mud of liability standards for supervisors underscore the importance of overcoming the madness of qualified immunity if plaintiffs are to have a viable damages remedy for the violation of their constitutional rights. In the end, however, I come back to where I started in 1978, to the position I advocated following the decision in Monell, and urge the Court to relinquish its dogged adherence to the doctrine of no respondeat superior for claims brought under Section 1983.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Scott DeVito (Florida Coastal) & Andrew Jurs (Drake) have posted to SSRN An Overreaction to a Nonexistent Problem: Empirical Analysis of Tort Reform from the 1980s to 2000s. The abstract provides:
Proponents of tort reform have suggested it is a necessary response to rising personal injury litigation and skyrocketing insurance premiums. Yet the research into the issue has mixed results, and the necessity of tort reform has remained unproven.
We decided to research an underdeveloped area by empirically testing the real world effects of noneconomic damages caps. To do so, we assembled a database of nearly fourteen million actual cases filed between 1985 and 2009 and then measured how damages caps affect filing rates for torts. Not only could we analyze the change in filings after adoption of a cap but we could also measure the effect of elimination of a cap as well. When we did, we found something unique in the literature.
We found first that when a state adopts a noneconomic damages cap, there is a statistically significant drop in filings of all torts and for medical malpractice torts. We also found that in both the 1990’s and 2000’s, the rate of filings dropped consistently as well – both in states with tort reform but also in states without it. Therefore, our finding of a statistically significant reduction in filings in response to damages caps demonstrates a “doubling-down” effect: there is one drop in filings due to the damages cap, but there is another drop based on larger background forces.
Next, when assessing the change in filings after elimination of a damages cap, we found something initially counterintuitive but also new to the literature. While one might expect a sharp increase in filings when a cap disappears, our analysis could find no statistically significant change in the filing rate for all torts after elimination, while medical malpractice filings continued to decline overall. We believe that this finding demonstrates and quantifies, for the first time, the non-legal effect of tort reform measures discussed by commentators like Stephen Daniels and Joanne Martin.
We believe the combination of the “doubling down” on plaintiffs as well as the quantifiable non-legal changes in response to damages caps significantly modifies the cost-benefit analysis of tort reform. In Trammel v. United States, the Supreme Court stated: “we cannot escape the reality that the law on occasion adheres to doctrinal concepts long after the reasons which gave them birth have disappeared and after experience suggest the need for change.” Based on our empirical assessment, we conclude that tort reform has reached that point and call upon state legislators to reconsider these measures.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Elizabeth Katz (Harvard-History) has posted to SSRN Judicial Patriarchy and Domestic Violence: A Challenge to the Conventional Family Privacy Narrative. The abstract provides:
According to the conventional domestic violence narrative, judges historically have ignored or even shielded “wife beaters” as a result of the patriarchal prioritization of privacy in the home. This Article directly challenges that account. In the early twentieth century, judges regularly and enthusiastically protected female victims of domestic violence in the divorce and criminal contexts. As legal and economic developments appeared to threaten American manhood and traditional family structures, judges intervened in domestic violence matters as substitute patriarchs. They harshly condemned male perpetrators — sentencing men to fines, prison, and even the whipping post — for failing to conform to appropriate husbandly behavior, while rewarding wives who exhibited the traditional female traits of vulnerability and dependence. Based on the same gendered reasoning, judges trivialized or even ridiculed victims of “husband beating.” Men who sought protection against physically abusive wives were deemed unmanly and undeserving of the legal remedies afforded to women.
Although judges routinely addressed wife beating in divorce and criminal cases, they balked when women pursued a third type of legal action: interspousal tort suits. The most prominent example of this response is Thompson v. Thompson, 218 U.S. 611 (1910), in which the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow a wife to sue her husband in tort for assaulting her. Judges distinguished tort actions from divorce and criminal suits because tort’s assertive legal posture and empowering remedy seemingly subverted established gender roles. In a world in which women appeared to be radically advancing in work and politics, male judges used the moral theater of their courtrooms to strongly and publicly address domestic violence but only in ways that reinforced gender and marital hierarchies.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
I have posted to SSRN The Prosser Letters: 1919-1948. The abstract provides:
William Prosser was one of the most accomplished and influential scholars of the twentieth century. He molded the development of tort doctrine, especially in the areas of products liability, privacy, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. In spite of his numerous achievements, there is no full-length biography of Prosser. A major reason no one has written such a volume is the lack of Prosser’s papers. Based on information from a Berkeley Law librarian, it appears Prosser destroyed most of his papers in 1963. Recently, however, prominent academics have both written shorter biographical pieces on Prosser and called for further research on his life.
Progress is possible thanks to the serendipitous discovery of a pile of Prosser’s old letters at a garage sale in the Berkeley area. The letters begin when the twenty-one-year-old Prosser is in Europe after fighting in World War I and continue through Prosser’s role as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School in 1948. They provide a first-hand account from Prosser during crucial periods of his life.
This essay is based on a review of those letters. It accomplishes three main things. First, it fills in considerable details of Prosser’s life, including the resolution of several contested issues, such as where Prosser spent his childhood and when he matriculated as a 1L at Harvard Law School. Second, the essay provides a first-hand account of Prosser’s pedagogical experience in law school and how that affected his teaching, his struggle with the decision to become an academic, and his candid appraisal of the academy. Third, the essay reveals Prosser’s assessment of his own honesty, which is especially provocative in light of the controversy surrounding his methods for influencing the law.
Andrew McClurg (Memphis) has posted to SSRN The Second Amendment Right to Be Negligent. The abstract provides:
Only two constitutional rights — the First and Second Amendments — have the capacity, through judicial interpretation or legislative action or inaction, to confer a “right to be negligent” on private citizens; that is, a right to engage in objectively unreasonable risk-creating conduct without legal consequences. In the First Amendment context, for example, the Supreme Court, in New York Times v. Sullivan and its progeny, expressly embraced a right to be negligent in defaming public officials and public figures to protect speech. This Article asserts that through both common and statutory law the United States has enshrined a de facto Second Amendment right to be negligent in many aspects of making, distributing, and possessing firearms, the only legal product designed to inflict what the tort system is designed to prevent.
Explaining that it is a microcosm of a much larger issue, the Article focuses on one area: allowing access to guns by criminals through theft. Hundreds of thousands of guns are stolen each year from individuals and commercial sellers. By definition, they all go directly to criminals. A substantial percentage of guns used in crime were previously stolen. Nevertheless, the common law has conferred near complete immunity on gun owners and sellers who fail to secure guns from theft when they are subsequently used to cause harm. This occurs despite frequent judicial pronouncements that the risk of firearms demands the highest degree of care in their use and keeping. To accomplish this result, courts ignore or mischaracterize fundamental scope of liability principles, rarely even reaching the question of whether reasonable care was exercised.
On the statutory front, not only have Congress and most states failed to mandate firearms security measures, Congress has — in the name of the Second Amendment — given express protection of the right to be negligent, most prominently in the form of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The Act immunizes manufacturers and sellers of guns from most tort claims, including claims against commercial firearms licensees for negligent security leading to theft.
The Article argues that this government-endorsed lack of responsibility results in the under-deterrence of risky conduct that, with reasonable alterations, could avoid substantial intentional and accidental injury costs.
Friday, March 20, 2015
Nora Engstrom (Stanford) has posted her contribution to the O'Connell tribute to SSRN. Entitled Exit, Adversarialism, and the Stubborn Persistence of Tort the abstract provides:
Serious tort reformers have long tried to divert certain claims from the tort system into no-fault or “replacement” regimes where, it is said, compensation can be more easily, expeditiously, predictably, and simply delivered. Yet while many continue to champion no-fault’s expansion, surprisingly few have stopped to ask how America’s various no-fault experiments, in place for over a century, have thus far fared. Taking up that challenge, this Essay, written in memory of no-fault pioneer Jeffrey O’Connell, canvasses America’s four boldest experiments with no-fault legislation. The investigation — of workers’ compensation, automobile no-fault, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and birth injury funds in Florida and Virginia — reveals that all four of our most ambitious no-fault experiments have, in significant respects, failed. Seepage from no-fault regimes and into the tort system has been a persistent problem. Further, even when compensation has been provided within existing no-fault mechanisms, the mechanisms have become bogged down by adversarialism, marked by longer times to decision and increased combativeness, attorney involvement, and reliance on formal adjudicatory procedures. Showing how and why no-fault has repeatedly fallen short, this Essay seeks to complicate conventional wisdom concerning no-fault’s ostensible advantages. And, it seeks to honor O’Connell’s proud legacy, for only by identifying what’s gone wrong, might we start anew on a path toward the creation of better and more resilient reforms.
All of the papers in the JTL tribute are now available here.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Herb Kritzer (Minnesota) and Neil Vidmar (Duke) have posted to SSRN Lawyers on Trial: Juror Hostility to Defendants in Legal Malpractice Cases. The abstract provides:
In contrast to medical malpractice, legal malpractice is a phenomenon that has attracted little attention from empirically-oriented scholars. This paper is part of a larger study of legal malpractice claiming and litigation. Given the evidence on the frequency of legal malpractice claims, there are surprisingly few legal malpractice cases that result in jury verdicts. There are many possible explanations for this, one of which reflects the perception that lawyers are held in such low esteem by potential jurors that they risk harsh treatment by jurors when they are defendants in legal malpractice trials. Because we could find no empirical evidence that that either supported or rejected the reality of this perception, we designed a simple jury simulation experiment to test this as an hypothesis. Using three different case scenarios, each in two forms (one set within a legal malpractice framework and one outside legal malpractice), we found support for the hypothesis in only one of the three scenarios and even there the effects were at best modest. These results held up controlling for other possible factors that might influence juror responses to the case scenarios.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Richard Ausness (Kentucky) has posted to SSRN 'Danger is My Business': The Right to Manufacture Unsafe Products. The abstract provides:
While no one would dispute that safety is a desirable objective, it may not always be an absolute priority. Rather, in some cases, other societal interests such as personal autonomy, consumer choice, product cost, and performance may trump legitimate safety goals. This is reflected in some of the doctrines and defenses that have evolved to protect the producers of unsafe products against tort liability. Some of these doctrines, such as those determining liability for the producers of optional safety equipment, inherently dangerous products, products with obvious hazards, and prescription drugs and medical devices, are part of the law of products liability. Other doctrines, such as the regulatory compliance defense and the contract specification defense, are aspects of the broader law of torts. Finally, a few of these doctrines, such as federal preemption and the government contractor defense, are rooted in principles of federal supremacy.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Mike Wells (Georgia) has posted to SSRN Constitutional Remedies: Reconciling Official Immunity with the Vindication of Rights. The abstract provides:
A great deal of scholarly attention is devoted to constitutional rights and comparatively little to remedies for their violation. Yet rights without remedies are not worth much, and remedial law does not always facilitate the enforcement of rights, even of constitutional rights. This Article discusses an especially challenging remedial context: suits seeking damages for constitutional wrongs that occurred in the past, that are unlikely to recur, and hence that cannot be remedied by forward-looking injunctive or declaratory relief. Typical fact patterns include charges that the police, prison guards, school administrators, or other officials have engaged in illegal searches and seizures, or fired people on account of protected speech, or deprived them of liberty or property without due process of law, or discriminated against them in violation of equal protection. Because these backward-looking suits bear some resemblance to ordinary tort law, the doctrine is often called “constitutional tort.”
This Article examines a well-settled and routine — but destructive and quite unnecessary — consequence of the interplay between the liability rule and the official immunity doctrine. Consider two plaintiffs, Alice and Bob, each of whom sues for damages under § 1983. Suppose that both plaintiffs lose, but for different reasons. Alice establishes a violation of her constitutional rights, but fails because the defendant successfully asserts official immunity. Bob cannot show that his rights were violated in the first place. Despite the difference between their cases, current Supreme Court doctrine directs that Alice and Bob be treated the same. Both go away empty-handed. Under the Court’s approach, the competing goals behind liability and immunity are balanced in the following way: On the one hand, the aim of constitutional tort law is to compensate the plaintiff and to deter violations of rights. But on the other side of the balance, official immunity carries enough weight to override the compensation and deterrence goals. Thus, the official’s successful immunity defense carries the same force as a successful defense on the merits. Both result in total victory for the defense.
In this Article, I argue for a different conception of constitutional tort law, in which it is recognized that Alice’s case differs fundamentally from Bob’s. The point is not to question official immunity, a doctrine that has broad support from the Supreme Court. My project is to reconcile official immunity with Alice’s legitimate claim for a remedy.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Betsy Grey (Arizona State) has posted to SSRN The Future of Emotional Harm. The abstract provides:
Why should tort law treat claims for emotional harm as a second-class citizen? Judicial skepticism about these claims is long entrenched, justified by an amalgam of perceived problems ranging from proof difficulties for causation and the need to constrain fraudulent claims, to the ubiquity of the injury, and a concern about open-ended liability. To address this jumble of justifications, the law has developed a series of duty limitations to curb the claims and preclude them from reaching the jury for individualized analysis. The limited duty approach to emotional harm is maintained by the latest iteration of the Restatement (Third) of Torts. This Article argues that many of the justifications for curtailing this tort have been discredited by scientific developments. In particular, the rapid advances in neuroscience give greater insight into the changes that occur in the brain from emotional harm. Limited duty tests should no longer be used as proxies for validity or justified by the presumed untrustworthiness of the claim. Instead, validity evidence for emotional harm claims — like evidence of physical harm — should be entrusted to juries. This approach will reassert the jury’s role as the traditional factfinder, promote corrective justice and deterrence values, and lead to greater equity for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claimants. The traditional limitations on tort recovery, including the rules of evidence and causation, are more than adequate to avoid opening the floodgates to emotional distress claims.
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Bob Rabin (Stanford) has posted to SSRN his contribution to the JTL's O'Connell tribute. Entitled Jeffrey O'Connell and the Compensation Principle in Accident Law: Institutional and Intellectual Perspectives, the abstract provides:
In this essay, I locate the principles that animated the career of Jeffrey O’Connell in a larger context of examining the role of compensation in accident law. I provide a short historical excursion to set the stage. Next, I discuss how O’Connell followed his initial venture involving auto no-fault with a more expansive scheme of elective no-fault coverage for products and medical mishaps, which in turn was followed by his early offers proposal. Then, I briefly trace the legacy of O’Connell in the present era of mass tort and disaster relief claims. A final section offers a concluding note.
Monday, March 2, 2015
I have posted to SSRN my contribution to the Journal of Tort Law's Jeffrey O'Connell tribute. Entitled Party Autonomy in Tort Theory and Reform, the abstract provides:
Tort theory has been dominated by a debate between scholars who view tort law as rooted in individualized justice and scholars who argue tort law is an instrument of social policy. This dialogue has distracted scholars from the more important issue of how to properly separate cases worthy of individualized justice treatment from those better suited to routinized resolution. Tort law already contains both types. One potentially fruitful method of separation is to empower the parties themselves to make the decision. They could do so by voluntarily trading liability for the elimination or substantial reduction in non-economic damages. Such an approach honors individualized justice by leaving the parties in control of the case and, if used, would increase both compensation and administrative efficiency, arguably without a reduction in the deterrent effect. Although the purpose of this article is not to design the ideal proposal(s) to embody such an approach, Jeffrey O’Connell has given us several models to begin our deliberations. It is only the latest contribution in his impressive legacy.
Friday, February 27, 2015
The next issue of the Journal of Tort Law is a tribute to Jeffrey O'Connell, who died in January of 2013. From the Introduction:
O’Connell’s overriding goal was to make compensation more readily available to the injured. He saw traditional tort law as dilatory, unfair, inefficient and hence inadequate to address the pressing needs of injury victims. In pursuing reform, he necessarily took a stand in the theoretical debate about the purposes of tort law. In the typical case, he believed, tort should be compensatory; matters of individualized justice or deterrence were secondary. Given the realities of tort litigation as he saw them, O’Connell believed justice and deterrence goals were both harder to accomplish and harder to measure than a compensation objective. On this understanding, tort law is best justified as insurance and yet, for that very reason, was ripe for radical reform, given its deficiencies. At heart, O’Connell was deeply practical and pragmatic. He wanted his ideas to matter for the world and he valued the tangible good of victim compensation over what he took to be more speculative goods.
The papers that follow reference O’Connell’s pragmatism, but also branch out to touch on many different aspects of his work. Robert Rabin finds that mass tort and disaster relief claims are today being handled on terms congruent with O’Connell’s efforts to realign the tort system to focus on compensation. Kenneth Abraham and G. Edward White combine O’Connell’s love of biography with his interest in tort law to study the life and influence of a scholar who was in many ways a forerunner and kindred spirit: William Prosser. Nora Freeman Engstrom, in the spirit of O’Connell’s critiques of tort, turns the tables by subjecting no-fault programs to careful analysis. Anthony Sebok finds one of O’Connell’s early first-party insurance proposals relevant to currently heated debates over litigation finance. Zoë Sinel challenges O’Connell’s claim that tort is properly understood and assessed by its ability to deliver compensation. Finally, Christopher Robinette finds in O’Connell’s scholarship guidance as to how to begin distinguishing those tort suits worthy of individualized justice treatment from those better suited to serve a compensatory objective.
The pieces are available at De Gruyter's "Ahead of Print" section, though I believe Tony's and Nora's articles are not yet included.