Sean Williams, ‘Dead Children: Tort Law and Investments in Child Safety’

Should tort law treat cases of dead children differently than cases of dead adults? A diverse set of research — including bioethics studies, contingent valuation, and analyses of consumer behavior — all suggest that the answer is Yes. That research coalesces around a single pattern: people are willing to invest about twice as many resources in protecting children as they are in protecting adults, even when each are equally vulnerable to the relevant risk. This pattern extends to non-fatal risks as well, even those as mundane as the risk of catching a cold. These investment patterns suggest that, as a prima facie matter, a deterrence-oriented tort system should impose standards of care that are about twice as stringent for children as for adults, and award tort damages that are about twice as high for child victims. These insights — generated by focusing solely on deterrence — remain robust when we instead view tort law through the lenses of corrective justice or civil recourse. Each of these individual justice accounts of tort law is consistent with child exceptionalism, although some require fewer caveats than others. Such child exceptionalism is also consistent with plausible and attractive moral theories despite the fact that it could be framed as a deviation from formal equality. In addition to laying out the empirical and normative cases for heightened standards of care and heightened damages, the Article offers a set of tools that courts and legislatures can use to move tort law toward these goals.

Williams, Sean H, Dead Children: Tort Law and Investments in Child Safety (December 15, 2014).

First posted 2014-12-17 07:03:10

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