TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, August 23, 2019

Shavell on Liability for Autonomous Vehicle Accidents

Steven Shavell has posted to SSRN On the Redesign of Accident Liability for the World of Autonomous Vehicles.  The abstract provides:

This article proposes a scheme of liability that would desirably control accident risks in the coming world in which motor vehicles will be autonomous. In that world, travelers will not be drivers, rendering liability premised on driver fault irrelevant as a means of reducing accident dangers. Moreover, no other conventional principle of individual or of manufacturer liability would serve well to do so. Indeed, strict manufacturer liability, recommended by many commentators, would actually tend to leave accident risks unchanged from their levels in the absence of liability. However, a new form of strict liability – the hallmark of which is that damages would be paid to the state – would be superior to conventional rules of liability in alleviating accident risks and would be easy to implement.

August 23, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Keating: "Is Tort Law Private?"

Gregory Keating has posted to SSRN Is Tort Law 'Private'?.  The abstract provides:

A prominent, important strand of contemporary thinking about tort law — represented most powerfully by the work of Arthur Ripstein and Ernest Weinrib — has coalesced around the thesis that the concept of “private law” is the key to the subject. In one familiar usage of the term, the thesis that tort is private law is innocuous. Tort is private law in the sense that it is concerned with relations among persons in civil society. As the banner under which a school of thought marches, “private law” is a much weightier concept. It asserts that the essence of tort law is encapsulated in the traditional bipolar lawsuit. Within that formal structure, all that matters are the relations between the particular plaintiff and the particular defendant.

This book chapter argues that modern tort law is not private in the way that these theorists claim, for reasons that are both historical and normative. Modern tort took shape in response to the emergence of accidents as a social problem and its rise involved the displacement of traditional bipolar wrongs from the center of the field. Long established intentional wrongs — battery, trespass, defamation, and the like — arise out of episodic, one-off collisions between individual persons going about their lives. In an industrial, technological society, accidents are the recurring byproducts of organized and fundamental social activities. Modern fault liability emerges as the center of modern tort law in response to this social transformation. When this happens, accidents become the focal point of tort law and fault is sharply divorced from moral notions of personal responsibility and blameworthiness. To be sure, negligent wrongs remain genuine wrongs. The fault standard is an attempt to articulate what a right to the physical integrity of one’s person requires in the way of care owed by others. Failures to exercise reasonable care are wrongs when they result in harm to persons who can claim the right to such care. But they are also wrongs that may be blamelessly committed. Negligence is wrongful conduct, not culpable mens rea. We require reasonable care not because failing to be reasonably careful is always and everywhere egregiously blameworth, but because even blameless and slight negligence can inflict severe harm.

Champions of tort as private law implicitly recast tort in a pre-modern form, thereby obscuring fundamental and significant features of our law. Modern tort law responds to a pressing social problem and protects persons’ fundamental interest in physical integrity. It is a part of basic justice concerned with interactions that cannot be avoided in the course of normal modern lives — not a law which addresses random and voluntary individual interactions. And almost since its inception, modern tort law has been only one of a family of institutions that address organized, systematic, risk. Direct regulation of risk and administrative schemes are two others. This family of institutions is not sundered by a radical separation of the private law of torts from the public law of regulation. Tort law, direct regulation of risk, and administrative schemes are complementary and competitive alternatives to one another, responding to overlapping problems and articulating related values.

August 20, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Keating on Corrective Justice

Gregory Keating has posted to SSRN Corrective Justice:  Sovereign or Subordinate?.  The abstract provides:

The concept of “corrective justice” has figured prominently in debates over the formal structure and normative commitments of private law — especially tort law — over the past generation. This chapter organizes those debates around two very different conceptions of the role and significance of corrective justice in private law, especially tort law. One conception sees corrective justice as “sovereign” the other sees it as “subordinate”. On a subordinate conception, corrective justice is an aspect of the institution of tort law and it must be accounted for by an adequate theory of tort. On a sovereign conception, corrective justice is the master concept of tort law; it does the explaining. In the disciplinary battles of the past few decades, economically inclined theorists of tort — especially Richard Posner — have conceived of corrective justice as subordinate whereas philosophically inclined theorists have taken it to be sovereign. The thought behind the subordinate conception is obvious enough. Ordinary tort adjudication does corrective justice; a theory of tort worthy of the name ought to explain way. The argument for the sovereignty of corrective justice is less obvious. It grows out of a critique of the economic analysis of tort developed by Jules Coleman and Ernest Weinrib. In a nutshell, they argue that corrective justice is a backwards-looking practice and is therefore poorly explained by the forward-looking logic of economic analysis.

On their face, the central concepts of negligence law — duty, breach, harm, actual and proximate cause — hang together to articulate a relationship of right and responsibility between victim and injurer. Breach of duty is a reason to hold a defendant responsible for harm done to a victim by the breach of that duty. Tort law looks backwards toward the past interactions of the parties in order to determine if the defendant should be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injury. For orthodox economic analysis, however, liability is not imposed because the defendant breached a duty of care and was the actual and proximate cause of harm done. Liability is imposed when and because we rightly conclude that the imposition of liability for past harm will induce optimal prevention of accidental harm going forward. For economics, the concepts of duty, breach, actual and proximate cause, and harm are not the real grounds of liability. They are evidentiary markers that do a respectable job of identifying cheapest cost-avoiders going forward.

This chapter argues that the corrective justice critique of economic analysis is powerful, but that the conclusion that corrective justice is the sovereign principle of tort, and perhaps even private law more generally, is not. Corrective justice in tort looks back to the violation of tort law’s primary norms. Those norms, and the values they seek to institute, deserve to be at the center of our understanding of the field. For the economic analysis of tort, the path forward may lie in moving towards the kind of indirect account of the institution now familiar in property scholarship. Such an account would give due recognition to the norms that figure prominently in tort adjudication, and seek to show how the institution as a whole is justified by its desirable consequences.

August 19, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 16, 2019

Abraham & White on the Constitutionalization of Tort Liability

Ken Abraham & Ted White have posted to SSRN First Amendment Imperialism and the Constitutionalization of Tort Liability.  The abstract provides:

To what extent does the First Amendment impose limits on the permissible scope of tort liability? Until recently, the clear answer would have been, “only under very limited circumstances.” During the last few decades, however, the First Amendment has been so greatly expanding its empire that giving this answer is no longer possible. “All bets are off” would be a more accurate answer, because the forms of speech to which the Supreme Court has extended First Amendment protection have become impressively broad. Although existing First Amendment restrictions on the permissible scope of tort liability currently are limited, the very existence of those restrictions confirms that many torts involving speech potentially are subject to First Amendment protection. And many torts do involve speech – the duty to warn about the dangers of prescription drugs, fraud, and even some forms of simple negligence are just a few examples.

If the First Amendment of the future limited all or even many of these different constitutionally unprotected forms of tort liability, then its scope would be pervasive. We contend, however, that neither existing First Amendment doctrine nor sensible constitutional policy supports extending free speech protection to torts that are accomplished through speech, except in extremely narrow circumstances. Extending First Amendment protection to such torts would aggravate what we argue are two of the principal risks posed by First Amendment imperialism: the erosion of the cultural distinction between truth and falsity, and devaluation of the status of speech about matters of public concern. Our contention is that most of the forms of speech involved in torts that are accomplished through speech currently are, and should remain, excluded from First Amendment protection. To support this contention, we examine the First Amendment’s extension to previously unprotected forms of speech over the last three-quarters of a century, compare the new First Amendment protections to the doctrinal elements of a series of torts that always or often are accomplished through speech, and argue that it would make little sense, as a matter of tort or constitutional law, to restrict liability for those torts on First Amendment grounds.

August 16, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Citron on the Internet as It Is and Should Be

Danielle Keats Citron has posted to SSRN Cyber Mobs, Disinformation, and Death Videos:  The Internet As It Is (And As It Should Be).  The abstract provides:

Fiction and visual representations can alter our understanding of human experiences and struggles. They help us understand human frailties and suffering in a visceral way. Nick Drnaso’s graphic novel Sabrina does that in spades. In Sabrina, a woman is murdered by a misogynist, and a video of her execution is leaked. Conspiracy theorists deem her murder a hoax. A cyber mob smears the woman’s loved ones as crisis actors, posts death threats, and spreads their personal information. The attacks continue until a shooting massacre redirects the cyber mob’s wrath to other mourners. Sabrina captures the breathtaking velocity of disinformation online and the rapid escalation to terroristic threats.

Every day, people are radicalized online to wreak havoc and violence. On August 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas, a twenty-one-year old man posted a racist manifesto on 8chan and then walked into a Wal Mart with a powerful rifle, killing 20 people and injuring many others. The killer trafficked in and engaged with others in hateful conspiracy theories. 

Drnaso invites a conversation about cyber mobs, conspiracy theories, and death videos and the norms, attitudes, and laws enabling them. Right now, it is cheap and easy to wreak havoc online and for that havoc to go viral. Platforms act rationally — some might say responsibly to their shareholders — when they tolerate abuse that earns them advertising revenue and costs them nothing in legal liability. Combatting cyber-mob attacks must be a priority. Law should raise the cost of cyber-mob attacks. It is time for tech companies to redress some of the negative externalities of their business model. Platforms should not enjoy immunity from liability for user-generated content unless they have earned that immunity with reasonable content moderation practices. Education should play a role as well. As digital citizens, we need to do better.

August 14, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 12, 2019

JOTWELL Torts: Green on Yeung on Computer Code as Law

Monday, August 5, 2019

Hedley on Insurance's Effect on Negligence Liability

Steve Hedley has posted to SSRN The Unacknowledged Revolution in Liability for Negligence. The abstract provides:

Wide availability of insurance today makes nonsense of most of tort’s traditional justifications. No longer can it punish or deter wrongs, or deal even-handedly between claimant and defendant: the defendant simply drops out of the picture in favour of their employer or insurer. Tort therefore merely compensates, though theorists are reluctant to concede this. Modern theoretical accounts emphasise deterrence, personal responsibility and corrective justice – all of which are important goals, yet none of which has much to do with tort’s bureaucratic reality. But tort is not so easy to uproot, and the interest groups which can speak most authoritatively have too much to gain from its operations to permit substantial reform. For theorists, therefore, the justification of tort is an important problem with no plausible solution: it is an itch which constantly irritates, but which we cannot properly scratch.

August 5, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Geistfeld on Tort Liability for Human Rights Violations in Global Supply Chains

Mark Geistfeld has posted to SSRN The Law and Economics of Tort Liability for Human Rights Violations in Global Supply Chains.  Appearing in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of European Tort Law, the paper is based on a presentation at April's Annual Conference of European Tort Law in Vienna.  The abstract provides:

The human rights of foreign workers in global supply chains are routinely violated, yet the problem so far has largely evaded a legal solution. Economic analysis shows why domestic tort liability can partially address this problem. Many consumers in developed countries have a lower willingness-to-pay for products produced by global supply chains that systemically subject foreign workers to egregiously dangerous working conditions in gross violation of their human rights. This attribute of consumer demand provides a basis for subjecting the domestic chain leader to domestic tort liability for the bodily injuries suffered by these foreign workers, including those employed by independent suppliers. Chain leaders, like other product sellers, are obligated to warn about foreseeable safety risks that are not known by consumers and would be material to their decision about whether to purchase or use a product. The tort duty also requires sellers to instruct consumers about the ways in which the purchase or use of the product might foreseeably harm third parties. A domestic seller that is the chain leader of a global supply chain would breach this duty by not warning domestic consumers that the product is produced by foreign workers who are systemically subjected to working conditions that are so unsafe as to amount to a gross violation of their human rights. Because the purchase of the product foreseeably exposes foreign workers to this ongoing risk of physical harm, they are protected by the tort duty and can recover for its breach. Causation can be established by the logic of the breached tort duty. If consumers had been warned that the product is produced in such a systemically unsafe work environment, a substantial number of them would not have purchased it--they would instead have purchased the same product at the higher price necessary to protect the foreign workers from these ongoing safety violations. By distorting consumer demand in this manner, the domestic product seller’s failure to warn domestic consumers of these human rights violations in the global supply chain proximately caused injury to these foreign workers, entitling them to compensation. By remedying these human rights violations, domestic chain leaders would satisfy the reasonable expectations of domestic consumers who have altruistic preferences to rescue foreign workers from extreme dangers within the production process. Tort law cannot redress the full range of human rights violations in global supply chains, but consumer demand provides a sound basis for tort liability that addresses a limited, though important component of the problem.

July 24, 2019 in Conferences, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Gentry & McMichael on Tort Incentives

Elissa Philip Gentry and Benjamin McMichael have posted to SSRN Responses to Liability Immunization:  Evidence from Medical Devices.  The abstract provides:

The Supreme Court's decision in Riegel v. Medtronic unexpectedly and immediately immunized medical device manufacturers from certain types of state tort liability. Riegel immunized manufacturers from liability if their devices had been approved through the Food and Drug Administration's most rigorous|and costly|review process, premarket approval ("PMA"). Exploiting this unanticipated decision, we examine whether manufacturers strategically respond to this new immunity. We find evidence that, following the Riegel decision, device manufacturers file more PMA applications for high risk product categories (relative to the comparable change for low risk categories), suggesting that firms are sensitive to the newly immunized risk. We additionally find evidence that physician treatment patterns with respect to medical devices also change, consistent with Riegel shifting liability away from device manufacturers and towards physicians. The analysis provides evidence that sophisticated actors respond to changes in their expected legal liability and that technical legal decisions have important ramifications for the provision of health care.

July 22, 2019 in Products Liability, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Gifford's Tribute to Judge Sally Adkins of the Maryland Court of Appeals

Judge Sally Adkins, who recently retired from Maryland's high court, wrote a number of significant tort opinions during her tenure.  Don Gifford recently published his tribute to her in the Maryland Law Review.  Rescuing Maryland Tort Law:  A Tribute to Judge Sally Adkins is here.

July 11, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 8, 2019

JOTWELL Torts: Steel on Descheemaeker on Emotional Distress Recovery

At JOTWELL, Sandy Steel reviews Eric Descheemaeker's Rationalising Recovery for Emotional Harm in Tort Law

July 8, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Kahn on the Tax Treatment of Liability Insurance

Jeffrey Kahn has posted to SSRN The Tax Treatment of Liability Insurance.  The abstract provides:

This article reviews the policy justification for liability insurance tax treatment.

July 2, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Sawicki on Context-Sensitivity in Tort Defenses

Nadia Sawicki has posted to SSRN Defining the Known Risk:  Context-Sensitivity in Tort Law Defenses.  The abstract provides:

The law of negligence is designed to apply uniformly across contexts. Whether dealing with a car accident, medical malpractice, or a slip-and-fall case, tort law consistently asks whether a defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and whether he exercised reasonable care in fulfilling that duty. Tort law defenses, too, are generally understood to be context-neutral. The doctrines of comparative negligence and assumption of risk should not vary depending on the precise circumstances surrounding an injury. 

And yet, there is a peculiar inconsistency in how some defenses are applied in cases of medical malpractice as compared to cases outside the health care context. Specifically, reliance on secondary implied assumption of risk seems to require greater knowledge on the part of the plaintiff in malpractice cases than in other contexts. In recreational sport cases, for example, a plaintiff will be denied recovery if he voluntarily encountered a known risk of physical injury – regardless of whether he understood that the risk was the result of a defendant’s negligence. In contrast, in medical malpractice cases, most people’s intuition is that the plaintiff’s recovery should be denied or limited only if he had knowledge of the risk of physical injury as well as the fact that this risk was created by a negligent defendant. There is no clear doctrinal explanation for this distinction. 

This article describes this conundrum and poses the question of whether and when such context-specific adjustments might be doctrinally justified. Ultimately, the most likely explanation is grounded in medical exceptionalist claims that the unique nature of health care justifies a more flexible and nuanced application of legal doctrine. While this conclusion may be unsatisfying to some, it presents a valuable opportunity to revisit debates about the supposed context-neutrality of tort law.

July 1, 2019 in Conferences, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Geisel on Mistake Doctrine and Personal Injury Releases

Grace Giesel has posted to SSRN A New Look at Contract Mistake Doctrine and Personal Injury Releases.  The abstract provides:

One might expect a court to look very skeptically when a party to a personal injury release asks a court to set aside the release. But many courts have reacted atypically when injured parties who have settled their claims have sought to have those releases set aside on the basis of a lack of understanding or knowledge about the injury. Absent facts supporting a claim of fraud or duress, injured parties have turned to the mistake doctrine for relief.

June 26, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 14, 2019

Calnan on Reasonableness

Alan Calnan has posted to SSRN The Nature of Reasonableness.  The abstract provides:

Though the notion of reasonableness dominates Anglo-American law, its meaning has been clouded by traditional conceptual analysis. This Essay argues that greater clarity can be gained by taking a scientific approach to the subject, exposing the natural foundations beneath the concept’s varied interpretations.

June 14, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Janecek on Vicarious Liability

Vaclav Janecek has posted to SSRN Vicarious Liability of Juristic Persons:  A Historical, Comparative and Philosophical Study.  The abstract provides:

This chapter advances two claims regarding vicarious liability. First, that every legal system must be capable of theoretically devising the idea of vicarious liability (as opposed to direct liability and responsibility). Second, that juristic persons and other artificial legal entities may be liable only vicariously for wrongs committed by other persons, who ultimately must be human beings. To cast new light on the concept of vicarious liability, this chapter analyses the changing relationship of the terms liability (in Czech: “ručení”) and responsibility (in Czech: “odpovědnost”) in the historical development of Czech law from the beginning of the 19th century until mid-20th century. This development was marked not only by radical changes in the posited law and by the problematic connections of the Czech legal terminology with the German one (especially with the terms Haftung and Verantwortung), but especially by the normative theory of law, internationally known especially thanks to Hans Kelsen’s writings. A peculiarity of the Czech tradition in the normative theory of law (analysed in this chapter primarily through the pioneering work of František Weyr, whose publications are mostly unknown in English-speaking countries) is that it has arrived at the concept of vicarious liability by analysing the abstract nature of legal duties, i.e. regardless of any positive legal system. This happened already in the 1930s, although the Czech normative theory of law did not take into account any developments in the common law systems with which the concept of “vicarious liability” is typically associated. This chapter presents and develops the “normativist” theory of vicarious liability to arrive at the two main claims as set out above.

June 12, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Maliha on the Distortive Effect of the National Practitioner Data Bank on Medical Malpractice

George Maliha has posted to SSRN The Distortive Effect of the National Practitioner Data Bank on Medical Malpractice Litigation and Settlement.  The abstract provides:

Congress created the National Practitioner Data Bank ("NPDB") in 1986 to address a concern that medical liability cases were increasing throughout the nation. In order to prevent physicians from moving from state to state in order to escape a poor outcome, the NPDB was supposed to provide a central clearinghouse of information for every physician in the country-regardless of where they practiced. However, the NPDB distorts medical malpractice litigation and settlement-harming defendant-physicians, plaintiff-patients, and insurers. The NPDB's brooding shadow over medical malpractice has led many litigants and commentators to term it a "blacklist." Part II explores whether this term is appropriate by describing the NPDB in the context of insurer-physician relations. This discussion will connect the well-described model of insurer-insured relations to the prescient concerns raised about the NPDB's potential distortive effect on litigation and settlement as the data bank was being enacted in the late 1980s. Part III will explore mechanisms to alter reports-and place a physician's "side" into the record kept by the NPDB. Attempts to alter reports have triggered litigation against reporting entities and the NPDB itself, and although they have largely failed, these suits illustrate the unique problems that the NPDB causes physicians. In Part IV, these unsuccessful suits will be contrasted against a body of law surrounding the accuracy of another putative "blacklist"-credit scores. Part V will begin to sketch out some basic policy recommendations.

June 10, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Cortez on Technology and Patient Safety

Nathan Cortez has posted to SSRN A Black Box for Patient Safety?.  The abstract provides:

Technology now makes it possible to record surgical procedures with striking granularity. And new methods of artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning allow data from surgeries to be used to identify and predict errors. These technologies are now being deployed, on a research basis, in hospitals around the world, including in U.S. hospitals. This Article evaluates whether such recordings – and whether subsequent software analyses of such recordings – are discoverable and admissible in U.S. courts in medical malpractice actions. I then argue for reformulating traditional "information policy" to accommodate the use of these new technologies without losing sight of patient safety concerns and patient legal rights.

June 7, 2019 in Scholarship, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Patti on Autonomous Vehicles in Europe

Francesco Paolo Patti has posted to SSRN The European Road to Autonomous Vehicles.  The abstract provides:

The present contribution intends to outline a “European regulatory strategy” in order to address technological and legal challenges posed by autonomous vehicles. Starting with a recent communication of the EU Commission, the paper provides a critical analysis of the EU policies on the legal issues of liability related to autonomous vehicles. The ongoing discussions within national jurisdictions demonstrate that a comprehensive plan to tackle the aforementioned problems is missing. The efforts made by national legislators and scholars reveal a patchwork of solutions, whereby everyone tries to find their own way to balance innovation with the need to protect the interested persons. It is however clear that the possible evolutions in the automotive sector will mainly affect three branches of private law: traffic accident liability, product liability and insurance law. It is thus necessary to understand whether private law needs to adapt its paradigms to the technological developments under examination. In this respect, the contribution tries to examine the main problematic aspects of the actual legal framework at the national and European level. It goes then further in presenting, through a two-steps approach, how traffic liability might look like in the future, both in the short and in the longer term. The main findings of the article are that in the near future no dramatic changes are required, but just some minor amendments to adapt the product liability regime to the technological changes; in the more distant future, when users will demand autonomous vehicles through their devices, there will be the need to fashion a new system of traffic liability with compulsory insurance on manufactures, which will become a prerequisite for the vehicle being in motion. Finally, the paper advances some conclusions about the need to foster comparative research on the examined issues. 

June 4, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Bagchi on Production Liability

Aditi Bagchi has posted to SSRN Production Liability.  The abstract provides:

It is well known that many consumer goods are produced under dangerous working conditions. Employers that directly supervise the production of these goods evade enforcement. Activists and scholars have argued that we must hold the manufacturers and retailers that purchase goods made in sweatshops accountable. However, there has been little movement toward such accountability.

Responsibility for the conditions under which goods are made — what I call “production liability” — entails assigning responsibility for workers to firms that do not directly employ them. Production liability, therefore, conflicts with deep intuitions about the boundaries of individual responsibility.

This Article offers a moral and economic defense of production liability that is responsive to that challenge. The Article identifies the particular moral responsibility that manufacturers bear as a public form of complicity. It further considers the economic logic of assigning legal liability to such firms and the optimal form that liability should take. This Article makes the case that production liability can update our legal regime for employment in the way that products liability did for consumer law.

May 31, 2019 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)