Tort law and corrective justice

Law and Philosophy 22 (1):21-73 (2003)
Abstract
This article offers a refutation of the corrective justice interpretation of tort law – the view that it is essentially a system of corrective justice. It introduces a distinction between primary and secondary tort duties and claims that tort law is best understood as the union of its primary and secondary duties. It then advances two independent criticisms of the corrective justice interpretation. The article first argues that primary tort duties have nothing fundamentally to do with corrective justice and that, if one understands what is meant by ``primary tort duties,'' one is compelled to regard this fact as a decisive objection to the corrective justice interpretation. Second, it argues that, whatever relation there is between secondary tort duties and corrective justice, that relation also holds between corrective justice and secondary duties of other legal branches. In sum, the concept of corrective justice is neither capable of unifying tort law nor of demarcating it from other legal branches.The article also offers a general alternative interpretation of tort law. Rather than being essentially corrective, tort law is essentially protective. Under this picture, if tort law has a most important point, it is the protection of legal subjects and valuable social interests from harm. This is the overarching ambition that unifies primary and secondary tort duties. It does not, however, demarcate tort law from other legal branches.
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