Tort Liability for Breach of Statute: A Natural Rights Perspective

Law and Philosophy 2 (1):89 - 117 (1983)
This essay applies Hegel's theory of remedies to the question of whether and when breach of a penal statute should attract civil liability in tort. For Hegel, the purpose of a remedy is to vindicate the human right to self-determination by refuting the claim to validity implied in intentional or negligent acts that infringe this right. Accordingly, in determining the civil effect of legislation, a distinction must be made between statutes that effectuate pre-existing rights and those which create new rights in the attempt to maximize aggregate welfare. The former should confer a civil right of action, the latter should not. Statutes that impose a duty of affirmative action should be enforced civilly if their purpose is to protect individual autonomy in circumstances where one person has gained control over the welfare of another. And statutes that protect persons from exposure to unreasonable risk should confer a civil right of action provided that the conditions of ordinary negligence liability are met. These conditions ought to supplant those connected with the legislative intent theory of statutory torts.
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