Why Civil Recourse Theory is Incomplete

57 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2010 Last revised: 22 Jul 2015

Date Written: August 16, 2010


The latest prominent theory of torts is the rich “civil recourse” theory of Professors John C. P. Goldberg and Benjamin C. Zipursky. Pursuant to civil recourse, tort is a law of wrongs. Specifically, tort law’s purpose is “providing victims with an avenue of civil recourse against those who have wrongfully injured them.” As such, Goldberg & Zipursky, with certain de minimis exceptions, deny that tort’s purpose is to serve as an instrument to achieve social and public policy goals.

Although I agree with Goldberg & Zipursky that wrongs are an essential component of tort law, their exclusion of instrumentalist concerns, such as deterrence, loss spreading, and administrative efficiency, is overly broad.

Using tort reform as a perspective by which to examine torts, I chronicle the growth of instrumentalism in tort law. All of the major tort reforms over the last century were based in instrumentalism. Moreover, when the reforms are viewed chronologically, a pattern develops, In each successive reform, instrumentalism made increasing inroads into tort.

Thus, as a positive account of tort law, civil recourse is incomplete. Tort law, as a positive matter, is about wrongs, but not exclusively wrongs. It is pluralist, including elements of instrumentalism as well.

Keywords: Torts, Tort Reform, Civil Recourse

JEL Classification: K13

Suggested Citation

Robinette, Christopher J., Why Civil Recourse Theory is Incomplete (August 16, 2010). Tennessee Law Review, Vol. 78, p. 431, 2011, Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-26, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1659711 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1659711

Christopher J. Robinette (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States

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