Wrongful-Aspect Overdetermination: The Scope-of-the-Risk Requirement in Drunk-Driving Homicide
44 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2013 Last revised: 28 Jul 2013
Date Written: April 2, 2013
Tort law’s scope-of-the-risk rule says that a defendant is liable for another person’s injury only if the injury resulted from the very risks that made the defendant’s conduct wrongful. Criminal law scholars have neglected the question whether the scope-of-the risk rule (or its wrongful-aspect variant) also applies in criminal cases. The courts have not, however. In drunk-driving homicide cases, the courts appear to have split roughly equally on the question whether the law requires a causal nexus between the defendant’s intoxication — the wrongful-aspect of his conduct — and the fatal accident. In this Article, I will argue that courts on both sides of this seeming divide have recognized intuitively: (1) that the scope-of-the-risk rule does apply to drunk-driving homicide cases; but (2) that what is required by way of a causal nexus between the defendant’s intoxication and the fatal accident is something less than but-for causation. What is required, specifically, is that the intoxication contribute incrementally to the causal mechanism behind the fatal accident. In effect, the courts have recognized intuitively that most drunk-driving homicide cases are causal-overdetermination cases.
Keywords: Criminal Law, Causation, Tort, Scope of Risk
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation