Should there be civil liability when a person who could easily and without risk rescue another fails to do so? It is argued that the failure to act does not cause the harm that follows, and that the misfeasance/nonfeasance distinction provides no basis for liability. In spite of this, it is maintained that there can sometimes be a duty to rescue, and even a right to be rescued, even in the absence of a voluntary undertaking or an explicit assumption of (...) responsibility.There are convincing arguments for some sort of legal recognition of a duty to rescue, but these arguments do not support tort liability. Nor is a case for tort liability made with the argument that a growth of tort law in this direction would be compatible with the values most centrally involved in the division between torts and contracts. Furthermore, there is a case against tort liability — namely, that the purpose of tort liability is to compensate, that there are certain sorts of situations in which compensation is apposite, and that failure to rescue does not fit into these categories. Criminal liability is the appropriate way for the law to recognize a duty to rescue. (shrink)
This article concerns the problem of factual uncertainty in negligence law. We argue that negligence law’s insistence that fair terms of interaction be maintained between individuals—a requirement that typically manifests itself in the need for the plaintiff to prove factual or “but-for” causation—sometimes allows for the imposition of liability in the absence of such proof. In particular, we argue that the but-for requirement can be abandoned in certain situations where multiple defendants have imposed the same unreasonable risk on a plaintiff, (...) where the plaintiff suffers the very sort of harm that rendered the risk unreasonable, and where the plaintiff cannot prove which of the defendants was the but-for cause of her loss. This approach provides one way to understand the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Resurfice Corp. v. Hanke. We find support for our approach in various concepts that underlie negligence liability quite generally. These underlying concepts are normative in nature, and manifest core notions of justice and fairness. We argue that approaches to the problem of factual uncertainty that appeal to such normative principles to make sense of atypical cases of causation are in no way inconsistent with the nature and structure of negligence law. Rather, the opposite is true: in taking negligence law seriously as law, such approaches are instead reflective and supportive of it. (shrink)
This book by one of America's preeminent legal theorists is concerned with the conflict between the goals of justice and economic efficiency in the allocation of risk, especially risk pertaining to safety. The author approaches his subject from the premise that the market is central to liberal political, moral, and legal theory. In the first part of the book, he rejects traditional "rational choice" liberalism in favor of the view that the market operates as a rational way of fostering stable (...) relationships and institutions within communities of individuals with broadly divergent conceptions of the good. However, markets are needed most where they are most difficult to create and sustain, and one way to understand contract law in liberal legal theory, according to Professor Coleman, is as an institution designed to reduce uncertainty and thereby make markets possible. Another target of this book is the prevalent view that tort law helps rectify market failures when transaction costs are too high to permit contracting. The author argues instead that tort law should be understood as a way of rectifying wrongful losses not inefficient exchanges. (shrink)
This collection of essays by one of America's leading legal theorists is unique in its scope: it shows how traditional problems of philosophy can be understood more clearly when considered in terms of law, economics, and political science.
One approach to legal theory is to provide some sort of rational reconstruction of all or of a large body of the common law. For philosophers of law this has usually meant trying to rationalize a body of law under one or another principle of justice. This paper explores the efforts of the leading tort theorists to provide a moral basis - in the sense of rational reconstruction based on alleged moral principles - for the law of torts. The paper (...) is divided into two parts. In the first part I consider and reject the view that tort law is best understood as falling either within the ambit of the principle of retributive justice, a comprehensive theory of moral responsibility, or an ideal of fairness inherent in the idea that one should impose on others only those risks others impose on one. The second part of the paper distinguishes among various conceptions of corrective or compensatory justice and considers arguments — including previous ones by the author himself — to the effect that tort law is best understood as rooted in principles of corrective justice. This paper argues that although the principles of justice may render defensible many (but by no means all) of the claims to repair and to liability recognized in torts, it cannot explain why we have adopted a tort system as the approach to vindicating those claims. Some other principle — probably not one of justice — is needed to explain why it is that the victim's claim to repair is satisfied by having his losses shifted to his injurer — rather than through some other means of doing so. The paper concludes that the law of torts cannot be understood — in the sense of being given a rational reconstruction — under any one principle of morality. (shrink)
One approach to legal theory is to provide some sort of rational reconstruction of all or of a large body of the common law. For philosophers of law this has usually meant trying to rationalize a body of law under one or another principle of justice. This paper explores the efforts of the leading tort theorists to provide a moral basis — for the law of torts. The paper is divided into two parts. In the first part I consider and (...) reject the view that tort law is best understood as falling either within the ambit of the principle of retributive justice, a comprehensive theory of moral responsibility, or an ideal of fairness inherent in the idea that one should impose on others only those risks others impose on one. The second part of the paper distinguishes among various conceptions of corrective or compensatory justice and considers arguments — including previous arguments by the author himself — to the effect that tort law is best understood as rooted in principles of corrective justice. This paper argues that although the use of principles of justice may render defensible many (but by no means all) of the claims to repair and to liability recognized in torts, it cannot explain why we have adopted a tort system as the approach to vindicating those claims. Some other principle — probably not one of justice — is needed to explain why it is that the victims claims to repair is satisfied by having his losses shifted to his injurer — rather than through some other means of doing so. The paper concludes that the law of torts cannot be understood — in the sense of being given a rational reconstruction — under any one principle of morality. (shrink)
Is the negligence standard in accident law acceptable to the egalitarian? The egalitarian - the egalitarian who would compensate only losses for which the actor was not responsible - cannot accept either a system of strict liability for all accidents or a system of social insurance for all accidents. A system of tort law acceptable to the responsibility - egalitarian must be a system based on negligence. But what will negligence mean? A negligence system in which the notion of reasonableness (...) is based on efficiency, I argue, is a system that redistributes wealth from the less well off to those better off. I consider alternative notions of reasonableness, ending up with a principle of proportional responsibility and distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial cases. (shrink)
Many legal disputes turn on scientific, especially statistical, evidence. Traditionally scientists have accepted only that statistical evidence which satisfies a 95 percent (or 99 percent) rule — that is, only evidence which has less than five percent (or one percent) probability of resulting from chance.The rationale for this rule is the reluctance of scientists to accept anything less than the best-supported new knowledge. The rule reflects the internal needs of scientific practice. However, when uncritically adopted as a rule for admitting (...) legal evidence, the seemingly innocuous 95 percent rule distorts the balance of interests historically protected by the legal system. In particular, plaintiffs in toxic tort and employment discrimination suits are effectively held to a heavier burden of proof in showing that their injuries were more probably than not caused by the defendant's actions. The result is that too many victims of toxic torts or employment discrimination cannot win legal redress for their injuries. (shrink)
According to the established orthodoxy, the law of private wrongs—especially common law torts—fails to map onto our moral universe. Four objections in particular have caught the imagination of skeptics about the moral foundations of tort law: They purport to cast doubt over the moral appeal of the duty of care element; they target the seemingly inegalitarian objective standard of care; they object to the morally arbitrary elements of factual causation and harm; and they complain about the unnecessary extension of liability (...) under the guise of the proximate cause element. Analyzing these four prevailing arguments concerning the a-moral (and, with regard to some interpretations, anti-moral) character of tort law, I shall seek to show that the normative structure of tort law can, nonetheless, be reconstructed so as to reflect, to an important extent, our considered judgments about basic moral principles. (shrink)
This collection of contemporary essays by a group of well-known philosophers and legal theorists covers various topics in the philosophy of law, focusing on issues concerning liability in contract, tort, and criminal law. The book is divided into four sections. The first provides a conceptual overview of the issues at stake in a philosophical discussion of liability and responsibility. The second, third, and fourth sections present, in turn, more detailed explorations of the roles of notions of liability and responsibility in (...) contracts, torts, and punishment. The collection not only presents some of the most challenging work being done in legal philosophy today, it also demonstrates the interdisciplinary character of the field of philosophy of law, with contributors taking into account recent developments in economics, political science, and rational choice theory. This thought-provoking volume will help to shed light on the underexplored ground that lies between law and morals. (shrink)
In this paper I discuss the proposal that the law of torts exists to do justice, more specifically corrective justice, between the parties to a tort case. My aims include clarifying the proposal and defending it against some objections (as well as saving it from some defences that it could do without). Gradually the paper turns to a discussion of the rationale for doing corrective justice. I defend what I call the ‘continuity thesis’ according to which at least part of (...) the rationale for doing corrective justice is to mitigate one’s wrongs, including one’s torts. I try to show how much of the law of torts this thesis helps to explain, but also what it leaves unexplained. In the process I show (what I will discuss in a later companion paper) that ‘corrective justice’ cannot be a complete answer to the question of what tort law is for. (shrink)
Is a Nozickian theory of rights compatible with a no-fault motor insurance scheme? I say, Yes. The argument turns on an explication of the basis on which a Nozickian justifies the prohibition of merely risky activities.
David McCarthy has recently suggested that our compensation and liability practices may be interpreted as reflecting a fundamental norm to hold people liable for imposing risk of harm on others. Independently, closely related ideas have been criticised by Stephen R. Perry and Arthur Ripstein as incompatible with central features of negligence law. We aim to show that these objections are unsuccessful against McCarthy’s Risk–liability theory, and that such an approach is a promising means both for understanding the moral basis of (...) liability for negligence and for reasoning about possible reforms of the institution of negligence law. (shrink)
Some believe that the harm or benefit of existence is assessed by comparing a person's actual state of wellbeing with the level of wellbeing they would have had had they never existed. This approach relies on ascribing a state or level of wellbeing to ‘nonexistent people’, which seems a peculiar practice: how can we attribute wellbeing to a ‘nonexistent person'? To explain away this oddity, some have argued that because no properties of wellbeing can be attributed to ‘nonexistent people’ such (...) people may be ascribed a neutral or zero level of wellbeing, setting the baseline for comparatively assessing the harm or benefit of coming into existence. However, this line of argumentation conflates the category of having zero wellbeing with the category of having no wellbeing. No Φ, unlike a zero level of Φ, is not comparable to levels of Φ — neutral, positive, or negative. Considering the nature of wellbeing and the fact that ‘nonexistent people’ cannot (metaphysically or conceptually) have wellbeing determinative properties, it follows that ‘nonexistent people’ have no wellbeing rather than zero wellbeing. (shrink)
This article reviews the development of hedonic value of life as a remedy in wrongful death and personal injury tort cases. Hedonic value estimates the worth of lost pleasures of living in an effort to compensate for intangible enjoyments, such as quality of education and environmental standards. This remedy goes well beyond the traditional approach which has compensated primarily for lost earnings and other expenses directly related to the tortious conduct. Most of the attention regarding hedonic value as a relatively (...) new tort remedy has focused on its application in non-business litigation. However, given the significant damage awards in recent cases, it is likely that this economic theory will arise in commercial litigation, especially products liability cases. The business community must be conversant with the ethical issues raised by this novel tort remedy in order to fashion a reasoned and socially acceptable contra-position. (shrink)
In this article I argue that clients who purchase commercial sex from forced prostitutes should be strictly liable in tort towards the sex-slaves. Such an approach is both normatively defensible and doctrinally feasible. As I have argued elsewhere, fairness and equality demand that clients compensate sex-slaves even if one refuses to acknowledge that fault is involved in purchasing sex from a prostitute who might be forced. In this article I argue that such strict liability could be grounded in the tort (...) of conversion, and not only (as argued elsewhere) in battery. Since the quintessential experience of sex-slaves is that of being treated as chattels, the appropriate legal response is to allow them to benefit from the strict liability imposed on those who interfere with an owner’s dominion over his property. Accordingly, sex-slaves should be viewed as both subjects and objects. As subjects they can sue clients for the violation of their sexual autonomy manifested by their treatment as objects. This approach is both advantageous to sex-slaves, in the sense it affords them protection that might not otherwise exist, and fair, since the ultimate response to the objectification of sex-slaves by clients should be to afford the former a proprietary-based claim against the latter. I further explain why my approach is not problematic on conceptual grounds, anti-commodification sentiments or feminist concerns with the symbolic message of my solution: that the law treats women as property. (shrink)
Tort cases in which an actor justifiably takes or damages the property of another have resisted analysis in terms of fault or economic efficiency. I argue that writers such as Jules Coleman and Judith Thomson, who locate the wrongfulness of the necessity torts in the infringement of a property right, have not illuminated the issue of why compensation is owed in these cases. My positive argument locates the wrongfulness of an uncompensated taking in these cases in the actor's interference with (...) the autonomy of the property owner, and justifies compensation as a matter of corrective justice. (shrink)
Those found liable for negligently injuring others are required to compensate them, but current practices permit most tort feasors to spread the costs of their liability burdens through the purchase of insurance. Those found guilty of criminal offences, however, are not allowed to shift the burdens of their sentences onto others. Yet the reasons for not allowing criminal offenders to shift such burdens – harm reduction, retribution, and moral education – also appear to retain some force in relation to negligent (...) tort feasors. Arguments for and against limiting the abilities of negligent tort feasors to spread such costs, thus imposing a penalty on them, are discussed. The conclusion reached is that further consideration of such a penalty is warranted. (shrink)
torts raise a number of interesting and perplexing philosophical issues. In a suit for ‘wrongful life’, the plaintiff (usually an infant) brings an action (usually against a physician) claiming that some negligent action has caused the plaintiff's life, say by not informing the parents of the likely prospect that their child would be born with severe defects. The most perplexing feature of this is that the plaintiff is claiming that he would have been better off if he had never been (...) born. A number of arguments have appeared which purport to show that ‘wrongful life’ claims should not be allowed, either because it is senseless to claim that one would be better off if one had not existed or that it is impossible to assess the extent to which someone has been damaged by being brought into existence. In our paper we rebut these arguments and suggest a procedure for determining damages in ‘wrongful life cases’. Keywords: ‘wrongful life’, ‘wrongful birth’, negligence, impaired existence, assessing damage * Professor Bell would like to express appreciation to the National Endowment for the Humanites for affording her the opportunity at an NEH Summer Seminar to do most of the background work for the preparation of this manuscript, and to the South Carolina Committee for the Humanities for funding that aided in continued work on this topic. CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
In what, if any sense are our torts and our breaches of contract 'wrongs'? These two branches of private law have for centuries provided philosophers and jurists with grounds for puzzlement and this book provides both an outline of, and intervention in, contemporary jurisprudential debates about the nature and foundation of liability in private law.
Is it wrong to bring children who will have serious diseases and disabilities into the world? In particular, is it unfair to them ? The notion that existence itself can be an injury is the basis for a recent new tort known as "wrongful life" (Steinbock, 1986). This paper considers Feinberg's theory of harm as the basis for a claim of wrongful life, and concludes that rarely can the stringent conditions imposed by his analysis be met. Another basis for maintaining (...) that it is morally wrong to have children under extremely adverse conditions is suggested: a principle of parental responsibility. We also argue that having children under such conditions may be unfair to the children, even if they have not been (in Feinberg's sense) harmed. Finally, we consider when conditions are sufficiently awful that having children might be viewed as incompatible with being a good parent and unfair to the child. (shrink)
In wrongful life litigation a congenitally impaired child brings suit against those, usually physicians, whose negligence caused him to be born into his suffering existence. A key conceptual question is whether we can predicate harm in such cases. While a few courts have permitted it, many courts deny that we can, and thus have refused these children standing to sue. In this article the author examines the wrongful life cases and literature enroute to a broader consideration of harm. This literature, (...) and philosophical discussions of harm generally, rely on a definition which ascribes harm by comparing an individual's current condition with that in which he would otherwise have been, but for the allegedly harmful event. The author shows this definition to be conceptually and morally flawed. A superior general definition is offered which, when then applied to wrongful life cases, shows that we can easily ascribe harm in these cases and can find clear potential for tort liability. (shrink)
The union of contemporary philosophy and tort law has never been better. Perhaps the most dynamic current in contemporary tort theory concerns the increasingly sophisticated inquires into the doctrinal elements of the law of torts, with the tort of negligence in particular garnering the most attention from theorists. In this article, I examine philosophically rich issues revolving around each of the elements constituting the tort of negligence: compensable injury, duty, breach, actual cause, and proximate cause.
It is the purpose of this article to make the positive case for an under-appreciated conception of rights: specified rights. In contrast to rights conceived generally, a specified right can stand against different behaviour in different circumstances, so that what conflicts with a right in one context may not conflict with it in another. The specified conception of rights thus combines into a single inquiry the two questions that must be answered in invoking the general conception of rights, identifying the (...) content of a right in light of what is justifiable to do under the circumstances. I present the case for specificationism in four sections, focusing on property rights. First, I argue that rights are based upon more fundamental reasons, and that this instrumentalism is compatible only with specificationism—a fact necessity cases illuminate. Next, I explain how specificationism embodies a fully moralized understanding of rights, and point to a dilemma that one faces in denying this. Third, I argue that the gap in property rights exposed in necessity cases entails that there is no right-based duty to compensate in such cases. Finally, I offer an error theory to explain the (false) attraction of the general conception of property rights. (shrink)
This collection of original essays on the theory of tort law brings together a number of the world's leading legal philosophers and tort scholars to examine the latest thinking about its rationales and current development. The contributions here range from law and economics to the latest in rights-based theories. The ever-engaging topic of causation is the subject of one cluster of essays, while other clusters deal with remedies, with the tort/contract divide, and with strict and other special forms of liability.