Disaster Tradeoffs: The Doubtful Case for Public Necessity

Susan S. Kuo

University of South Carolina - School of Law; University of Iowa - College of Law

54 Boston College Law Review 127 (2013)

When government takes private property for a public purpose, the Fifth Amendment requires just compensation. However, courts have long recognized an exception to takings law for the destruction of private property when necessary to prevent a public disaster. In those circumstances, unless the state accepts an obligation to pay damages, individuals must bear their own losses.

This Article contends that the public necessity defense should be rejected. First, the tight timeframe and limited options typical in a disaster response threaten to obscure the crucial role of government in planning for disasters and mitigating vulnerability. Second, and more fundamental, the deliberate infliction of harm remains wrongful, even if all available alternatives are worse and the situation could not have been averted or ameliorated through proper advance planning. A just-compensation rule — whether instituted via statute or judicial reinterpretation of the Fifth Amendment’s Taking Clause — would preserve the government’s emergency powers while reaffirming the rule of law and advancing the interests of social justice.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 58

Keywords: disaster law and policy, public necessity, takings law, moral philosophy, social justice

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Date posted: October 12, 2012 ; Last revised: August 22, 2013

Suggested Citation

Kuo, Susan S., Disaster Tradeoffs: The Doubtful Case for Public Necessity. 54 Boston College Law Review 127 (2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2161005

Contact Information

Susan S. Kuo (Contact Author)
University of South Carolina - School of Law ( email )
Main & Greene Streets
Columbia, SC 29208
United States
University of Iowa - College of Law
Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States
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