TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Southwestern Law School

Monday, April 30, 2018

McElhaney on Duty and Sovereign Immunity on Virginia's Roads

Ian McElhaney has posted to SSRN If a Tree Falls in a Roadway, Is Anyone Liable?  Proposing the Duty of Reasonable Care for Virginia's Road-Maintaining Entities.  The abstract provides:

“If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?” While the answer to that question is “yes,” not all questions involving trees are so easily disposed.

The case of Matthew Cline presents an unfortunate example of such a question. Cline was traveling in Charlottesville, Virginia, “when a tree fell and crushed the roof, windshield and hood of the vehicle Cline was driving. Cline suffered severe and permanent injuries, including fractures of his cervical spine.” In the subsequent suit, Cline alleged that Dunlora, the owner of the tree and land, was responsible on a theory of negligence. The Supreme Court of Virginia disagreed — the court found that the law did not “impose a duty upon landowners to protect individuals traveling on an adjacent adjoining public highway from natural conditions on the landowner’s property...” Thus, a question of law remained unanswered: if a private landowner owes no duty with respect to trees adjacent to the roadway, who, if anyone, does?

Following this case, Cline asserted that liability fell to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The claim, however, resolved on assumption-of-duty grounds, and did not turn to the question of whether a road-maintaining entity has a duty to inspect for or cut down dangerous trees adjacent to the roadways it maintains. The question deserves an answer for safety’s sake in the Commonwealth. This Note calls for an answer in the affirmative: a road-maintaining entity should have a duty of reasonable care to remediate dangerous trees adjoining the roadways it maintains.

Part II of this Note considers whether a duty for road-maintaining entities is tenable under Virginia law. The Part also explores the rationale for imposing differing liabilities between landowners and road-maintaining entities. Part III reviews the various duties other states use with respect to dangerous roadside trees, and concludes that the duty of reasonable care is most appropriate for Virginia.

Sovereign immunity is a companion issue, and is addressed in Part IV. The Part provides a brief overview of the policy arguments for sovereign immunity, before reviewing immunity’s impact at the state, county, and municipal levels. The Part also addresses a government employee’s entitlement to immunity, before considering a potential legislative solution to some of the present difficulties associated with sovereign immunity.

Finally, this Note reviews anticipated impacts in the world of litigation as a result of the duty of reasonable care, before addressing the legal and policy arguments of those who say the impact of such a duty would be negative.

April 30, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

USSC: Foreign Corporations Cannot Be Defendants in ATS Cases

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that foreign corporations cannot be defendants in suits alleging human rights violations under the Alien Tort Statute.  The question, answered in Jesner v. Arab Bank, has been raised since the 2013 Kiobel case.  The ABA Journal has details.

April 24, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Twerski on Drug Design Preemption

Aaron Twerski has posted to SSRN The Demise of Drug Design Litigation:  Death by Federal Preemption.  The abstract provides:

For over half a century courts and commentators have disagreed as to the standards governing liability for drug design cases. In the last several years the United States Supreme Court decided two cases that will have a profound effect on whether drug design defect cases, in general, are federally preempted. In PLIVA v. Mensing and Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett, the Court preempted product liability actions for failure to warn and design defect against the manufacturers of generic drugs that met the FDA standard for the name-brand drug. In these cases the court made wide ranging statements that are applicable to name-brand drugs as well. This essay finds the Court’s reasoning in Bartlett erred in having misread New Hampshire law. At the same time its reasoning has opened a debate as to the scope of federal preemption for name-brand drugs. This essay argues that the sweeping language in these two cases leads to the conclusion that common law drug design cases in name-brand drugs will fall prey to federal preemption.

April 20, 2018 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Miller on Signaling Other Drivers to Proceed

Over at Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog, Ron Miller blogs about the situation in which one driver signals, usually by waving, another driver to proceed.  In Maryland, reliance on signals from other drivers is not a valid defense, but drivers who signal could be successfully sued for negligence.

April 19, 2018 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

WI: Med Mal Cap Challenged as Unconstitutional

In 2011, a Wisconsin woman had all four limbs amputated.  A jury determined health care providers were responsible by negligently failing to diagnose an infection and awarded her $25.3M.  The non-economic damages portion of the award was approximately $16.5M.  WI has a med mal cap on non-economic damages of $750,000.  The trial judge ruled the cap was unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiff's case.  The intermediate appellate court went further and ruled the cap was unconstitutional.  Tomorrow the Wisconsin Supreme Court hears arguments in the case.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the story.

April 18, 2018 in Current Affairs, Damages, Legislation, Reforms, & Political News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sharkey on Field Preemption

Cathy Sharkey has posted to SSRN Field Preemption:  Opening the "Gates of Escape" from Tort Law.  The abstract provides:

Richard Epstein remains a (lone) staunch defender of field preemption of state tort laws in drug failure-to-warn and design defect cases. Field preemption blocks state efforts to regulate within that field even where there is no explicit conflict with federal regulation.

Epstein’s position squares with his libertarian predilections. He has decried how concurrent federal and state regulation ratchets up governmental control so that the most intrusive regulator always wins. Moreover, his sharp critique of more moderate conflict preemption approaches, such as my “agency reference model” that harnesses key interpretive tools of administrative law to shed light on the preemption question, follows from his distrust of, and disdain for, the burgeoning administrative state.

Far less examined is the extent to which Epstein’s normative vision of tort law — and how far it deviates from the reality of the expansion of tort liability and rejection of contractual defenses since the 1960s — drives his fervent embrace of field preemption. Seen in this light, field preemption compensates for the systemic errors of tort law.

Framing Epstein’s case for field preemption in this way has two significant implications. First, his critiques of the “agency reference model” are overdetermined. No amount of evidence either that courts are moving in this direction or that they are equipped to scrutinize the administrative regulatory record in deciding whether a state law failure to warn or design defect claim should be foreclosed matters, if the first best position is wholesale eradication of these expansive product liability causes of action.

Second, whereas Epstein has rightly emphasized the high stakes when the issue is whether federal law will preempt state law causes of action that have vastly expanded since the adoption of the Restatement (Second) of Torts in 1966, we might invert the line of inquiry to examine the prospects for adoption of a far more restrictive tort liability standard for drug and device manufacturers, such as the 1998 Restatement (Third) of Products Liability § 6(c). That provision met with a chilly reception in the courts, and most (Epstein included) read this as evidence of the insatiable appetite for ever-expansive state tort liability. But it may well be that the rise of preemption of products liability claims — which incidentally took flight almost at the very same time as the promulgation of the Third Restatement — stunted the evolution of state tort law standards. If that is so, then field preemption is as much to blame for perpetuating the need for a gate of escape from poorly developed concepts of tort liability against drug and device manufacturers.

(Via Solum/LTB)

April 13, 2018 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Green to Receive 2018 McKay Award

Wake Forest's Mike Green is the recipient of the 2018 Robert B. McKay Law Professor Award, presented by the ABA's Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section.  Wake Forest's announcement is here.  Congratulations to Mike!

April 12, 2018 in TortsProfs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

States Protect Ride Inspectors from Liability

The AP's John Seewer has a piece about ride inspectors and liability; the upshot is that states generally protect inspectors and they are almost never included as defendants.  This is often done via immunity, public duty rule, or both.  The Ohio Fair deaths last summer are a striking example because the ride had been inspected hours prior to the incident.

Updated:  A relevant paper from this blog's founder, Bill Childs, from 2006.

April 10, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Zipursky on Online Defamation

Ben Zipursky has posted to SSRN his Monsanto Lecture Online Defamation, Legal Concepts, and the Good Samaritan.  The abstract provides:

Federal and state courts around the country – aided by academics on almost all sides – have completely misread the Communications Decency Act [“CDA”] § 230(c). This widely cited provision was designed to protect Internet service providers and certain Internet users from liability for the defamatory statements posted by others online. Congress did not want these actors to face a defamation-law equivalent of a duty to rescue strangers -- an affirmative duty to remove third parties’ defamatory statements about others. And it certainly did not want a service provider’s efforts to protect a stranger’s reputation to backfire by suddenly creating liability for everything the service provider failed to remove. So, like every state legislature has done for off-duty medical personnel who act as good Samaritans, Congress in 1996 created a law saying that good faith efforts to filter offensive or defamatory material do not create an affirmative duty to remove such material and do not open them up to liability. For good measure, the statute also laid down a basic rule that there is no liability simply for being the conduit of what others have posted or for failing to remove such postings from one’s own site, and it preempts any state law that does otherwise. The CDA thus ensures that states’ defamation law runs roughly parallel to duty-to-rescue doctrine in the common law of negligence as amended by good Samaritan statutes. Indeed, that is why “Good Samaritan” is in the title of CDA § 230(c).

Under the sway of a talented First Amendment bar and in an academic culture hostile to common law concepts, judges around the country have selected an entirely different and misguided interpretation of § 230(c). They read the statute as, in effect, an abrogation of libel law’s classic republication rule, which states that a person who republishes a defamatory statement is liable as if she were the one who first said it. According to the overwhelmingly dominant interpretation of courts today, once someone says something defamatory, anyone who reposts it enjoys complete immunity from all state and federal law, even if the republisher knows the statement to be false and defamatory. Those academics who have rejected this interpretation tend to swing to the other extreme, advocating that website owners who have notice of a defamatory posting should be liable for failure to remove it. This too misses the point of the statute’s text. Through a detailed examination of libel doctrine and a close analysis of the case (Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy) that generated the development of a protective federal statute, the article displays the correct reading of the statute and the importance of retaining a robust version of the republication rule online.

April 9, 2018 in Conferences, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 6, 2018

CA: Supreme Court Holds Universities Have a Special Relationship with Their Students

In The Regents of the University of California v. Superior Court, 2018 Cal.LEXIS 1971 (March 22, 2018), the Supreme Court of California held that universities have a special relationship with their students and a duty to protect them from foreseeable violence during curricular activities.  Thanks to Robert Bohrer for the tip.

April 6, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Using "Torts Stories" as the Basis for an Advanced Torts Seminar

Teresa Bruce, at the University of Colorado Law School, is teaching an advanced torts seminar, based on Torts Stories by Foundation Press, for the first time. The book discusses several highly celebrated torts cases, including United States v. Carroll Towing Co., Rowland v. Christian, and Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California. Each chapter is individually authored by a prominent torts professor. The book does not come with a teacher’s manual, and Foundation Press has confirmed that it does not have any supplemental materials for the book. Consequently, Teresa has been making up her own questions for each chapter—a time-consuming process. She gives these questions to her students in advance of class, to focus the discussion. She is wondering whether any blog readers have already created a list of questions for the chapters in this book and, if so, whether they would be willing to share their work. (Note that she is looking for something customized to the commentaries in Torts Stories, so borrowing from questions that appear in traditional casebooks would not be entirely effective.) She, herself, has drafted questions for some chapters, and is happy to share them with anyone who might be interested. Teresa can be reached at teresa.bruce@colorado.edu.  

April 4, 2018 in Teaching Torts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Abraham & Rabin on Automated Vehicles

Ken Abraham & Bob Rabin have posted to SSRN Automated Vehicles and Manufacturer Responsibility for Accidents:  A New Legal Regime for a New Era.  The abstract provides:

The United States is on the verge of a new era in transportation, requiring a new legal regime. Over the coming decades, there will be a revolution in driving, as manually-driven cars are replaced by automated vehicles. There will then be a radically new world of auto accidents: most accidents will be caused by cars, not by drivers. Thus far, however, proposals for reform have failed to address with precision the distinctive issues that will be posed during the long transitional period in which automated vehicles share the roadway with conventional vehicles, or during the succeeding period that will be dominated by accidents between automated vehicles. A legal regime for this new era should more effectively and sensibly promote safety and provide compensation than the existing tort doctrines governing driver liability for negligence and manufacturer liability for product defects will be able to do. In a world of accidents dominated by automated vehicles, these doctrines will be anachronistic and obsolete. We present a proposal for a more effective system, adopting strict manufacturer responsibility for auto accidents. We call this system Manufacturer Enterprise Responsibility, or “MER.” In describing and developing our proposal for MER, we present the first detailed, extensively analyzed approach that would promote deterrence and compensation more effectively than continued reliance on tort in the coming world of accidents involving automated vehicles.

April 2, 2018 in Scholarship, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)