• Video

Why Do We Need Tort Law?

Society has always had mechanisms to address personal harms. Professor Greg Dickinson uses the example of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” In primitive societies, this was the sort of thing that was demanded as exact justice. In modern times, we have an authoritative legal system that is able to both evaluate harm and punish wrongdoing in a more humane manner. https://youtube.com/watch?v=BjDBVuZ-jw0


I guess Tort law has a few purposes. And one way to talk about its purpose might be to think about the origin of Tort law, and why we would have something like tort law. And the reason goes back; you think of a saying like: eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth. And you think: you know, we're so much more civilized than that. Today we have modern legal regimes to solve our differences. But it's not crazy to imagine a world where eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth is how things work. If you don't have a strong government and somebody does something wrong to you; well, what would justice be? Maybe they killed, I don't know, your goat accidentally somehow, and so you go and take their goat. And that would be justice in a sense. “Eye for an Eye,” and so that would be justice. But the problem is if you have decentralized correction of injustices that way, there's not going to be much agreement about when an injustice occurred. The person might say: well, it was an accident when I hurt your goat, and now you came and took my goat. And so there would be disputes. You end up with people fighting and killing each other, and family feuds, and all that sort of thing when justice of that sort is done individually. It was for a long time done individually like that. But a much better system is a system where the government steps in and says: okay, well if you have a grievance, let's have a formal procedure for that. So we don't have inter-family fights that span generations, we'll instead have a legal system where if somebody hurts your goat, or in a more modern world, damages your car, well then you're not supposed to go kick their car, or go and take their car. You sue them, and you can recover the value of what they've wrongfully damaged in your property. And so, that's a long way of getting at, what is tort law for? And it’s to provide people a legal avenue to redress wrongs that people have done to them. And so, they have a way to become whole, that both serves the function of making them whole, putting things back the way they were is one function, but also just being a formal legal outlet rather than self-help. And so, you don't have people going and taking it into their own hands and hurting other people, or taking their things, seeking justice. You have a legal correct, or a safer, better alternative path to making them whole than if they took it into their own hands.

Related Content