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Nobody's Perfect: Proximate Cause in American and Jewish Law

31 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2010  

Steven F. Friedell

Rutgers Law School

Date Written: April 22, 2002


Although it may seem counter-intuitive, wrongdoers are not liable for most of the damage they cause. The law leaves most of the burden of torts on the victims because it would be neither just nor practical to hold culpable defendants liable for all the harm they cause. To do otherwise would expose a wrongdoer to liability to an indefinite number of people for an indefinite amount of time. The difficult task for any legal system is to define the criteria that determine the limits of liability and to prescribe the procedures for applying those criteria. This Article compares the doctrine of proximate cause used in American courts with a set of doctrines that have been worked out over the centuries in Jewish law. The Article examines three approaches within Jewish law and concludes that they are all indeterminate. Their genius and true value rests on their ability to change and adapt to the needs of individual cases. The Article applies this insight to American law, and suggests that because different policies underlie the various applications of the proximate cause doctrine, courts must do a better job of explaining to juries how to use their experience and common sense in resolving proximate cause issues.

Suggested Citation

Friedell, Steven F., Nobody's Perfect: Proximate Cause in American and Jewish Law (April 22, 2002). Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2002. Available at SSRN:

Steven F. Friedell (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

United States

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