Simons and Cardi, ‘Restating the Intentional Torts to Persons: Seeing the Forest and the Trees’

The five thoughtful, incisive articles by Professors Bernstein, Chamallas, Geistfeld, Moore, and Sugarman offer a breathtaking range of perspectives on the Restatement, Third of Torts: Intentional Torts to Persons (‘ITR’). Some view tort law from the widest vantage point, inquiring whether this forest deserves its own appellation or should instead be assimilated to the rest of tort’s greenery. Some focus more on the trees – on the distinct doctrines that characterize the torts and defenses that ITR is restating. In this response, we engage with the participants at both levels.

Our response also addresses two fundamental questions – the role of a Restatement and the significance of the ‘intentional tort’ category. First, ITR is a Restatement of tort law. It is not a model code of tort law, nor is it an academic article committed to a particular vision of the proper purposes and principles of tort law. We see our task, not as creating a grand theory from which all of intentional tort doctrine can be deduced, but as a bottom-up endeavor, accurately characterizing developments in the case law and then providing the most sensible and persuasive justifications for extant doctrine. At the same time, however, we strive to provide intellectual coherence to this body of law. Thus, we examine not only the holdings in narrow doctrinal categories, but also the consistency of those holdings with more general tort law principles.

Second, what is distinctive about the intentional torts to persons? How do they differ from torts of negligence or from other intentional torts? These questions have no simple answer, because most of the intentional torts to persons have very long historical roots, and because the common law process of reformulating doctrine has played a vital role in defining the scope of these torts in current American law. It is thus not at all surprising to find tensions and apparent inconsistencies between some current doctrines.

Nevertheless, we believe that the contemporary formulations of these torts are indeed justifiable in principle. First, these intentional torts sometimes reflect a hierarchy of fault or culpability. Purposely injuring someone is more culpable, ceteris paribus, than negligently causing the same injury. Second, these torts sometimes protect distinct interests, such as the interest in avoiding emotional harm or in freedom of movement, that for various policy reasons are not protected by liability rules if they are only negligently invaded. Third, the intentional torts do not simply identify species of conduct that reflect greater fault or culpability than negligence. Comparing intentional torts is sometimes akin to comparing apples and oranges, because these torts protect a varied set of interests or protect them in varying ways. Fourth, the intentional torts express a pluralistic set of values and principles. No single principle (such as welfare, autonomy, or freedom) fully explains all of these torts. And fifth, although these intentional torts contain some reasonableness criteria, for the most part they reject the reasonableness paradigm of negligence, and thus reject the more flexible, less structured criteria of liability that that paradigm engenders.

Kenneth W Simons and W Jonathan Cardi, Restating the Intentional Torts to Persons: Seeing the Forest and the Trees, Journal of Tort Law. DOI: Published Online: 2018-04-06.

First posted 2018-04-09 06:05:15

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