Tort As Private Administration

57 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2019

See all articles by Nathaniel Donahue

Nathaniel Donahue

Yale University, Law School

John Fabian Witt

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: March 9, 2019


What does tort law do? This Article develops an account of the law of torts for the age of settlement. A century ago, leading torts jurists proposed that tort doctrine’s main function was to allocate authority between judge and jury. In the era of the disappearing trial, we propose that tort law’s hidden function is to shape the process by which private parties settle. In particular, core doctrines in tort help to structure and sustain the systems of private administration by which injury claims are actually resolved. Though an observer could hardly guess it from judge-centric theories of tort or by reading the typical reported appellate cases, repeat-play stakeholders such as the plaintiffs’ bar, insurers, and others are developing and managing claims resolution facilities that have turned the resolution of one-off tort claims in the United States into something akin to aggregate litigation or a public compensation program. Hidden deep in the shadows of the law, private administration is becoming a standard feature of torts practice with substantial implications for the theory of tort law and litigation.

Keywords: torts, settlement, private administration, litigation, administration

JEL Classification: K13, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Donahue, Nathaniel and Witt, John Fabian, Tort As Private Administration (March 9, 2019). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 105, No. 2, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Nathaniel Donahue

Yale University, Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

John Fabian Witt (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-4944 (Phone)

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