In Defense of Tort Law

Thomas H. Koenig and Michael L. Rustad

Late-night comedians and journalists eagerly seized upon the case of an elderly woman who sued McDonald’s when she spilled hot coffee in her lap as a prime example of frivolous litigation. But, as Koenig and Rustad argue, popular accounts of cases such as these are incomplete and misleading characterizations of tort law. Corporations have successfully waged a public relations battle to create the impression that most lawsuits are frivolous, when in fact the opposite is true: tort law plays a crucial role in protecting Americans from dangerous products and other life-threatening hazards. Without tort remedies, corporations would suffer no significant penalty for choosing profits over public health and safety.

Well-documented and eminently readable, In Defense of Tort Law is the first book to systematically examine the sociological, legal, and policy dimensions of the tort reform debate. The authors show that from eighteenth-century England to the age of the Internet, tort law has been the public’s guardian against abuses of power.

Koenig and Rustad’s detailed case studies of civil litigation reveal disturbing gender inequities that are redressed by tort law. Because impermissible HMO cost cutting, hospital malpractice, defective medical products, nursing home negligence, and sexual exploitation all disproportionately harm women, further restrictions on tort remedies will create gender injustice.

This insightful analysis of the law in action looks beyond popular myths about needless lawsuits and tackles a variety of contentious issues: What is the social impact of tort reform on women, minorities, and consumers? Should patients have the right to sue their HMOs? Should punitive damages be capped? Who is favored by tort law? Who loses, and why? Engaging and up to date, In Defense of Tort Law argues that tort remedies need to be expanded, not contracted, to deal with such emerging threats to the public welfare as cyberstalking, identity theft, invasion of privacy, Internet fraud, and other injuries in cyberspace.

0-8147-4757-6/cloth/$45.00/320 pages

THOMAS H. KOENIG is a professor of Sociology and a founding faculty member of the Law, Policy, and Society doctoral program at Northeastern University in Boston. MICHAEL L RUSTAD is the Thomas F. Lambert Jr. Professor of Law and Director of the High Technology Law Program at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Advance Praise for In Defense of Tort Law

"In Defense of Tort Law is a badly (sadly) needed book. For several decades propagandists for large tortfeasors (and their lawyers) have brainwashed the public into believing that most tort victims are greedy and their claims frivolous. Koenig and Rustad demolish those lies. Their comprehensive survey of contemporary tort law in action uses dramatic stories to demonstrate the necessity for tort litigation as a non-bureaucratic alternative to regulation. Readers will finish the book understanding that the explosion Americans face, and should fear, is injury and illness, not litigation." –Richard L. Abel, Connell Professor of Law, UCLA

"In Defense of Tort Law fully delivers on its title It provides a thoroughly documented historical survey of tort law’s critical role in providing for citizen-initiated redress of and protection against old and new threats to individuals’ lives and health, as a backstop to and instigator of (usually inadequate) governmental health and safety regulations. It thereby makes a compelling case against the corporate-funded, empirically unsupported propaganda campaigns that seek to destroy tort law’s continuing ability to serve as an indispensable counterweight to corporate promotion of profits over human health and safety." – Richard W. Wright, Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law

"For at least 500 years Anglo-American law has developed techniques by which those hurt by the negligence of others can receive restitution or reparations. Compensation for personal injuries or torts has become one of the most notable accomplishments of American jurisprudence. This volume synthesizes the amazing array of statutes and decisions which have emerged from the dynamic development of tort law in America. It is informative and fascinating. It celebrates one of the greatest of the achievements of American law and lawyers" –Robert F. Drinan, S.J., Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

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