The Public Life of Private Law: Tort Law as a Risk Regulation Mechanism
21 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2017 Last revised: 30 Aug 2017
Date Written: July 20, 2017
Against the backdrop of contemporary climate change lawsuits, this article presents preliminary research findings regarding a remarkable and underappreciated moment in the common law pre-history of modern environmental, health, and safety regulation. The findings complicate the conventional academic story about the limited capabilities of tort law and its inevitable displacement by more institutionally robust and sophisticated forms of regulation. Part I offers a brief introduction, followed in Part II by a review of existing academic literature on the pros and cons of utilizing tort law as a regulatory device. As will be seen, the consensus view seems to be that tort law is a clumsy and imperfect mechanism for addressing most environmental, health, and safety risks. Part III argues that the debate over tort law’s potential as a risk regulation mechanism ignores the distinctively private law history and character of that body of law, essentially asking tort to serve a purpose for which it was neither intended nor designed. Part IV then presents a case study of nuisance litigation in which the tort system achieves a remarkable and underappreciated risk regulation effect precisely by focusing narrowly on the traditional task of adjudicating alleged wrongs between private parties. Part V concludes.
Keywords: Tort; Risk Regulation; Climate Change: Courts
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