TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Southwestern Law School

Friday, October 6, 2023

Zipursky & Goldberg's New Works, Part I

Ben Zipursky & John Goldberg have posted several new pieces to SSRN.  First, Recklessness in Tort:  Interstitial Law as Doctrinal Fine-Tuning.  The abstract provides:

“Intentional torts,” “Negligence,” and “Strict Liability” are typically cast as the major categories of tort liability. Conspicuously absent from this list is “Recklessness,” which would seem to fit between intentionality and negligence and is treated in criminal law as a category of its own. And yet recklessness does make sporadic appearances in tort law. Because it lies between categories without constituting a distinct category, recklessness thus can fairly be described as operating “interstitially” within tort law.

As we explain, recklessness fulfills this role in two quite different ways. In the law of defamation and fraud, it sets the lower boundary of ‘malice,’ understood as mistreatment of another involving dishonesty or other states of mind inconsistent with good faith. A quite different collection of tort settings in which recklessness plays an important role – one that includes the application of assumption of risk to recreational activities – are those in which courts are prepared to relieve actors of liability notwithstanding that their actions generate a significant risk of harm. In this domain, recklessness marks an upper rather than a lower boundary, namely, the point at which conduct becomes so unjustifiably dangerous that liability will attach. We conclude by suggesting that attention to the different ways in which recklessness serves as a fine-tuning mechanism in tort law may illuminate philosophical debates about the nature of recklessness, as well as jurisprudential inquiries concerning interstitial legal concepts.

Second, Sherman v. Department of Public Safety:  Institutional Responsibility for Sexual Assault.  The abstract provides:

This article addresses the intersection of three important topics: sexual assault, police misconduct, and employer liability for employee torts. As to the last of these, while there have long been debates among jurists in the U.S. concerning the proper scope of respondeat superior liability, courts have mostly adhered to an approach that focuses on whether the employee acted for the purpose of serving the employer’s interests. The narrowness of this purpose-based test, as compared to available alternatives, makes it imperative for lawyers, judges, and scholars to be attentive to other, less well-known, bases for employer liability. In Sherman v Department of Public Safety, the Delaware Supreme Court applied a particular version of one such doctrine – the “aided-by-agency” doctrine – to hold a police department accountable for its officer’s sexual assault of an arrestee. By articulating this doctrine in a thoughtful and circumscribed manner, the Court affirmed its reputation as a leader in the development of agency law, while also providing a helpful framework that can be applied to hold certain employers liable when employees take advantage of their employment-based authority over their victims to perpetrate assaults.

Third, Getting the Law Right:  An Essay in Honor of Aaron Twerski.  The abstract provides:

Written in honor of the great torts scholar Aaron Twerski, this article critically analyzes disturbing developments in New York negligence law as it applies to police who injure innocent bystanders. With the New York Court of Appeals’ 2022 decision in Ferreira v. City of Binghamton as a focal point, it argues that Ferreira and other contemporary decisions have largely betrayed the promise of the 1929 Court of Claims Act, which waived state and municipal immunity for police torts. While courts may be warranted in recognizing certain limits on police negligence liability that do not apply to private actors, the current regime, which purports to grant municipalities immunity not only for most instances of police nonfeasance but also for most instances of misfeasance, is indefensible. That decisions from New York’s high court have reached this untenable position largely reflects, in our view, both its misapplication of basic rules of negligence law and a failure to take seriously the principle of civil recourse that animates tort law and private law more generally. As such, they serve as a stark reminder of how important it is for courts and scholars to combine doctrinal expertise with sound judgment – precisely the salutary combination embodied in Professor Twerski’s torts scholarship.

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