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Accident Law for Egalitarians

45 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2005  


This paper questions the fairness of our current tort-law regime and the philosophical underpinnings advanced in its defense, a theory known as corrective justice. Fairness requires that the moral equality and responsibility of persons be respected in social interactions and institutions. The concept of luck has been used by many egalitarians as a way of giving content to fairness by differentiating between those benefits and burdens that result from informed choice and those that result from fate or fortune. We argue that the theory of corrective justice, along with its institutional embodiment of tort law, is at odds with an egalitarian commitment to fairness because it allows luck an unjustifiable role in determining dissimilar liability for similar wrongs and dissimilar compensation for similar losses to bodily integrity. Many egalitarian political theorists have also recognized, if not defended, the notion of distinct forms of justice, namely corrective, retributive, and distributive. Although theorists of these different forms of justice have been concerned with negating unfair luck inside the operations of each form of justice, there has been little attention to the way in which luck operates to sort cases into each form of justice. We claim that there is a significant way in which luck operates to subject different people to principles of corrective, retributive, and distributive justice - thereby assessing dissimilar liability for similar wrongs and disparate compensation for similar losses - which flies in the face of the egalitarian value of fairness. After surveying the arguments put forward by theorists defending a categorical distinction between corrective justice and retributive and distributive principles, we argue that although analytical distinctions can be made between different forms of justice (although, we also suggest that the distinctions are not as sharp as some commentators suggest), there is no good reason to defend an acoustic separation between these forms of justice when doing so creates unfair outcomes.

Keywords: Public law, Tort

Suggested Citation

Avraham, Ronen and Kohler-Hausmann, Issa, Accident Law for Egalitarians. Legal Theory, Vol. 12, pp. 181-224, 2006; Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 06-31. Available at SSRN:

Ronen Avraham (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
(512) 232-1357 (Phone)


Issa Kohler-Hausmann

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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