TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, April 23, 2021

Robinette on Harmonizing Wrongs and Compensation

I have posted to SSRN Harmonizing Wrongs and Compensation.  My contribution to the Maryland Law Review's Festschrift for Oscar Gray, the abstract provides:

In his seminal work, Tort Law in America, Ted White describes tort law as vacillating between a focus that is admonitory, based on conduct that is wrongful, and compensatory, providing the injured with resources to allay their injuries. Instead of continuing to vacillate between opposing theories of tort law, this article proposes to blend them. The concept is a tort law that is generally wrongs-based, but has a compensatory bypass.

There are two significant reasons to adapt compensation to a wrongs-based theory of tort law. First, incorporating compensation into tort law would match the motivations of many parties in the tort system and help improve its administration. I practiced tort law for seven years. Some of my clients were interested in vindication, but the majority were motivated by compensation, by which I mean they needed money to pay for their medical bills and/or lost wages. There is a problem, however, with sending both types of plaintiffs into the same tort system. Tort law, particularly negligence, is uncertain, and that uncertainty leads to delay and transaction costs. For plaintiffs interested in vindication, perhaps the time needed to pay close attention to facts and circumstances makes sense. After all, determining whether one has been wronged is a serious inquiry. Those features, however, are counterproductive to compensating the injured. Tort law that was able to vindicate rights in proper cases, but also efficiently compensate in others, would be ideal.

Second, history demonstrates that waves of injuries pressure tort law, and the law responds in a compensatory manner. It is foreseeable that injuries will continue to pressure tort law, and it makes sense to incorporate a mechanism to handle that pressure. Moreover, history provides guidance about the likely character of a compensatory bypass: compensation would become easier to obtain, but in smaller amounts.

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