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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 March 2018
Although judicial decisions in tort law primarily determine the (correlative) responsibilities and liabilities of the proceeding parties, they also have regulatory effects on non-litigants. In this contribution, these regulatory consequences of tort law will be analysed in light of a court’s quest when it decides a tort claim involving (uncertain) risks. It will be argued that decisions in tort law about uncertain risks involve the possible occurrence of a false positive (eg accepting liability for a non-existing risk) and a false negative (eg denying liability for a real risk). False positives and false negatives have adverse consequences for the parties to the proceedings but, bearing in mind the regulatory effects of tort adjudication, potentially also for non-litigants. While courts might want to avoid both, scientific uncertainties and complexities make it difficult for them to assess to what extent there is a chance of either a false positive or a false negative occurring. Therefore, they necessarily need to determine which party bears the risk of the involved errors. In addition, the question arises whether courts should also take the potential regulatory consequences of their rulings into account and, if yes, how? To that purpose, they can employ a bipolar reasoning style and a multipolar reasoning style. Although tort law is about determining the applicable rights and obligations between the plaintiff and defendant (bipolar reasoning), in light of the regulatory implications of tort law and developments in several tort systems, the relevance of considerations transcending this bipolar relationship (multipolar reasoning) is increasing. However, the possibilities for courts to engage in multipolar reasoning are restrained by the bipolar nature of tort law which gives rise to information and specialism deficits. This will be illustrated by referring to issues in relation to setting the standard of care and examining causation.
Dr ER de Jong is an Associate Professor at Utrecht Centre for Accountability and Liability Law (Ucall). The author can be reached at email@example.com. From April 2017 to April 2018 he is a visiting fellow at the Institute of European and Comparative Law of Oxford University, funded by the Dutch NWO program Rubicon. I am thankful to Ivo Giesen, Doug Kysar, Ida Lintel and Peter Mascini for their comments on earlier versions of this contribution.
1 Scientific uncertainties about risks, economic interests that are at stake, corporate lobbying, created doubt by industry and the potential of regulatory capture, all complicate governmental risk regulation. See, for an illustration, European Environmental Agency, Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation (EEA 2013)Google Scholar; P Harremoës (ed.), Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000 (Environmental issue report No 22) (EEA 2001).
2 See inter alia Viscusi, WK (ed.), Regulation through Litigation (American Enterprise Institute–Brookings Institution 2002)Google Scholar; Morris, AP, Yandle, B and Dorchak, A, Regulation by Litigation (Yale University Press 2008) 1 Google Scholar; Ewing, B and Kysar, D, “Prods and Pleas: Limited Government in an Era of Unlimited Harm” (2011) 121 Yale Law Journal 350 Google Scholar; Luff, P, “Risk Regulation and Regulatory Litigation” (2011) 61 Rutgers Law Review 73 Google Scholar; Faure, MG, “The complementary roles of liability, regulation and insurance in safety management: theory and practice” (2014) 17 Journal of Risk Research 689 Google Scholar; Spier, J and Magnus, U, Climate Change Remedies (Eleven International Publishing 2014) 2-155 Google Scholar; Enneking, L and de Jong, ER, “Regulering van onzekere risico’s via public interest litigation?” (2014) 23 Nederlands Juristenblad 1542 Google Scholar; de Jong, ER, “Rechterlijke risicoregulering bij gezondheids- en milieurisico’s” (2015) Ars Aequi 872 Google Scholar; Luff, P, “The Political Economy of Court-Based Regulation” in U Mattei and JD Haskell (eds), Research Handbook on Political Economy and Law (Edward Elgar 2015) 192 Google Scholar.
3 District Court of The Hague, 24 June 2015, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2015:7145. See, for a description of this judgment in light of judge made risk regulation, de Jong, ER, “Dutch State Ordered to Cut Carbon Emissions” (2015) 6 EJRR 448 Google Scholar.
4 District Court of The Hague, 7 September 2017, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2017:10171; HR 10 October 2014, ECLI:NL:HR:2014:2928, Nederlandse Jurisprudentie 2015/12, comm. EA Alkema; District Court of The Hague, 09 November 2015, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2015:12746.
5 See for references section II.2.
7 See on this issue the contribution of M Loth in this special issue.
9 van Gestel, R and Loth, M, “Urgenda: roekeloze rechtspraak of rechtsvinding 3.0?” (2015) 37 Nederlands Juristenblad 2598 Google Scholar. See, in relation to Dutch courts, de Jong, ER, “Dutch Tort Law at the Crossroads: Judicial Regulation of Health and Environmental Risks” in M Dyson (ed.), Regulating Risk through Private Law (Intersentia 2018)Google Scholar.
10 See eg the contribution of Kysar in this special issue. See in general, on this civil recourse theory, Goldberg, JCP and Zipursky, BC, “Tort law and Responsibility” in J Oberdiek (ed.), Philosophical Foundations of the Law of Torts, (Oxford University Press 2014)Google Scholar;
see, in relation to public authority liability, P Cane, “Tort Law and Public functions” in Oberdiek, supra.
11 Eg due to cost barriers and the influence(s) of lobby practices.
12 The argument will be mainly illustrated by experience in The Netherlands, a civil law jurisdiction, and in the common law world, especially jurisdictions in the US. The aim of this article is not, however, to give an exhaustive overview on how courts dealt with risk regulatory lawsuits in these jurisdictions. Although the jurisdictions differ on the level of detail, on the general substance they are comparable. See also Magnus, U, “Why is U.S. Tort Law so Different?” (2010) 1 Journal of European Tort Law 102 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. And for Europe, van Dam, C, European Tort Law (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
13 See on this topic in general MacCormick, N, “On Legal Decisions and Their Consequences: From Dewey to Dworkin” (1983) New York University Law Review 239 Google Scholar.
14 WK Viscusi, “Overview” in Vicusi, supra, note 2, 19–20. This norm amplificaion can be observed in relation to, inter alia, decision about the applicable standards, causation requirements, (actionable) damages and standing requirements and is especially present when courts stretch the boundaries of these legal concepts in order to accommodate the plaintiffs claim.
17 See, for a discussion of the rise of regulation because of the failures of courts, Glaeser, EL and Shleifer, A, “The Rise of the Regulatory State” (2003) XLI Journal of Economic Literature 401 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Shleifer, A, The Failures of Judges and the Rise of Regulator (MIT Press 2012)Google Scholar.
18 Eg Cane, P, “Tort Law as Regulation” (2002) 31 Common Law World Review 305, 312 Google Scholar and 320–322.
19 See also section V.3. See, for a discussion on how climate change might influence doctrinal tort law, Kysar, DA, “What Climate Change can do about Tort Law” (2011) 41 Environmental Law 1 Google Scholar.
20 See especially HR 6 April 1990, ECLI:NL:HR:1990:AB9376, NJ 1990/573, comm. PA Stein (Janssen/Nefabas); HR 25 June 1993, ECLI:NL:HR:1993:AD1907, NJ 1993/686, comm. PA Stein (Cijsouw I). HR 17 December 2004, ECLI:NL:HR:2004:AR3290, NJ 2006/147, comm. CJH Brunner (Hertel/Van der Lugt); HR 25 November 2005, ECLI:NL: HR:2005:AT8782, NJ 2009/103, comm. I Giesen (Eternit/Horsting).
21 HR 7 June 2013, ECLI:NL:HR:2013:BZ1721, NJ 2014/99, comm. T Hartlief (Lansink/Ritsma). See I Giesen, ER de Jong and MA Overheul, “Risks: how Dutch tort law responds to risks and how the law can shape risks” in M Dyson, supra, note 9. Sometimes the legislature intervenes. A striking example relates to the ruling of the English Supreme Court in Barker v Corus Ltd  2 AC 572, where it denied joint and several liability for solvent employers that exposed their employees, but where others are also responsbile for the exposure but are not solvent. The introduction of the Compensation Act 2006 reversed this ruling for situations of mesothelioma.
22 The tort of public nuisance stems from the old English common law and traditionally belongs to the domain of criminal law. In England and Wales some commentators would argue that the tort does not belong to the domain of tort law, since it is concerned with public interests and not with private interests: McBride, NJ and Bagshaw, R, Tort Law (5th edn, Pearson Longman 2015)Google Scholar; Harlow, C, State Liability (Oxford University Press 2015) 658 Google Scholar et sqq. See, for a general discussion of the tort and its critics in England and Wales, Neyers, JW, “Reconceptualising the tort of public nuisance” (2017) 76 Cambridge Law Journal 87 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
23 Restatement (sec.) of Torts, §708 to the end, §821B(1). For a description of the other elements of the tort under US law see also Faulk, RO and Gray, JS, “Alchemy in the Courtroom: The transmutation of Public Nuisance Litigation” (2007) Michigan State Law Review 941, 962–964 Google Scholar.
24 Faulk and Gray, supra, note 25, 948; Schwartz, VE and Goldberg, P, “The Law of Public Nuisance: Maintaining Rational Boundaries on a Rational Tort” (2005–2006) 45 Washburn Law Journal 541 Google Scholar.
25 There are a few exceptions. See Faulk and Gray, supra, note 25.
26 Interestingly, states also attempted to push the tort in this direction. According to Faulk and Gray especially this state litigation undermines the separation of powers theory, Faulk and Gray, supra, note 25, 974.
27 Two legal explanations can be given for this reluctance: the harm is public and not private and the tort as such is vague.
28 Cane, P, “Consequences in Judicial Reasoning” in J Horder (ed.), Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press 2000)Google Scholar; see, for an exception and interesting study on the possibility of courts to bring about social change, Rosenberg, N, The Hallow Hope. Can Courts Bring About Social Change? American Politics and Political Economy Series (2nd edn, University of Chicago Press 2008)Google Scholar.
30 Unfortunately, there is only thin empirical evidence available about the real behavioural effects of tort law in general and, particularly, in relation to specific behaviour of private actors and governments. This is partly due to the challenges empirical researchers face in establishing clear causal links between tort law and behaviour, and to filter out other relevant behaviour modifying factors (such as the availability of insurance and heuristic and biases). See Cardi, WJ, Penfiel, RD and Yoon, AH, “Does Tort Law Deter Individuals?” (2013) 9 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 567 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
31 Viscusi, supra, note 14, 3.
32 Luff, P, “Regulating Tobacco through Litigation” (2015) 47 Arizona State Law Journal 126 Google Scholar.
33 See Kysar in this special issue.
34 Wagner, W, “When All Else Fails: Regulating Risky Products Through Tort Litigation” (2007) 95 The Georgetown Law Review 693 Google Scholar, fn 81 with further references.
35 ibid  711 fn 82 with further references.
36 See, for an instructive overview, Viscusi, supra, note 14, and Morris, Yandle and Dorchak, supra, note 2.
37 See section IV.
38 Luff, supra, note 34, 169. This, however, says nothing about the adequacy of these regulatory regimes. The point to make here is that they are (partly) induced by litigation.
39 KS Abraham, “The insurance effects of regulation through litigation” in Viscusi, supra, note 2.
41 For instance Bergkamp, L, “Is There a Defect in the European Court’s Defect Test? Musing about Acceptable Risk” (2015) 2 EJRR 309, 321 Google Scholar,
as a reaction to European Court of Justice 5 March 2015 (C-503/13, C-504/13), ECLI:EU:C:2015:148 (Boston Scientific Medizintechnik GmbH/AOK Sachsen-Anhalt – Die gesundheidskasse en Beriebskrankenkasse RWE).
42 Section IV.3.
43 See, on these concepts in the context of risk governance, SFH Hansen and JA Tickner “The precautionary principle and false alarms – lessons learned” in EEA 2013, supra, note 1, 21.
45 This point was brought to my attention by one of the peer reviewers.
46 Green, MD, Benedictin and Birth Defects: The Challenges of Mass Toxic Substances Litigation (University of Pennsylvania Press 1996) 242, 258–260 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bernstein, D, “Getting to Causation in Toxic Tort Cases” (2008) 74 Brooklyn Law Review 51 Google Scholar: Haw, R, “Delay and Its Benefits for Judicial Rulemaking Under Scientific Uncertainty” (2014) 55 Boston College Law Review 331, 362–365 Google Scholar.
47 Daubert v Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc 509 US 579 (1993); General Electric Co v Joiner 522 US 136 (1996); Kumho Tire Company Ltd v Carmichael 526 US 1437 (1999); Haack, S, “An Epistemologist in the Bramble-Bush: At the Supreme Court with Mr. Joiner” (2001) 26 Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 217–248 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Cranor, CF, “A Framework for Assessing Scientific Arguments” (2007) 1 Journal of Law Policy 7 Google Scholar; Cranor, CF, “The Challenge of Developing Science for the Law of Torts” in R Goldberg (ed.), Perspectives on Causation (Hart Publishing 2011) 262–281 Google Scholar.
48 Cranor, CF, Toxic Torts, Science, Law and the Possibility of Justice (Cambridge University Press 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cranor, CF, Tragic Failures (Oxford University Press 2017) 100–135 Google Scholar. See in general, on the pitfalls courts face when assessing scientific evidence, Cranor, CF, “A Framework for Assessing Scientific Arguments” (2007) 15(1) Journal of Law Policy 7 Google Scholar.
49 Dana, D, “When Less Liability May Mean More Precaution: The Case of Nanotechnology” (2010) 28 UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy 153 Google Scholar.
51 De Jong, supra, note 9.
55 Cane, supra, note 19, 329. Cane focuses on common-law rule making, but the same argument can be made for civil law jurisdictions.
56 Cane, supra, note 19, 329.
58 In the common law world there is a vivid discussion on the use of policy arguments by the courts. See Bell, J, Policy Arguments in Judicial Decisions (Oxford University Press 1983) 26 Google Scholar; Cane, P, “Consequences in Judicial Reasoning” in J Horder (ed.), Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press 2000)Google Scholar; Burns, K, “It’s not just policy: The role of social facts in judicial reasoning in negligence cases” (2013) 21 Torts Law Journal 73 Google Scholar; Witting, C, “Tort Law, Policy and the High Court of Australia” (2007) 31 Melbourne University Law Review 569 Google Scholar; Plunkett, J, “Principle and policy in private law reasoning” (2016) 72(2) Cambridge Law Journal 366 Google Scholar; Robertson, A, “Policy-based reasoning in Duty of Care Cases” (2013) 33 Legal Studies 119 Google Scholar, who provides and overview of several kinds of considerations; MacCormick, N, Rethoric and the Rule of Law, A Theory of Legal Reasoning (Oxford University Press 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar ch 6, who observes that policy arguments especially play a role in “difficult” cases. See, for a Dutch discussion, Spier, J, “Gedachten over een vastgelopen stelsel” (2014) Aansprakelijkheid Verzekering and Schade 6 Google Scholar; de Jong, ER and van der Linden, TE, “Rechtspreken met oog voor extra-judicial effecten? Een bespreking van de mogelijkheden om rekenschap te geven van macro-effecten in het aansprakelijkheidsrecht” (2017) 2 Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Burgerlijk RechtGoogle Scholar.
59 See Stapleton, J, “Duty of Care Factors: A Selection from the Judicial Menus” in P Cane and J Stapleton (eds), The Law of Obligations: Essays in Celebration of John Fleming (Clarendon Press 1998) 59 Google Scholar; Witting, C, “Duty of Care: An Analytical Approach” (2005) 25 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 33 Google Scholar.
60 Stapleton, supra, note 62, 76; Oliphant, supra, note 42, 860–863. For an English perspective, see Wilberg, H, “Defensive practice or conflict of duties? Policy concerns in public authority negligence claims” (2010) 126 Law Quarterly Review 420 Google Scholar.
61 Steel, S, Proof of Causation in Tort Law (Cambridge University Press 2015) 269, 371, 381 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Steel refers to English, German and US cases. See also Nolan, D, “Causation and the goals of tort law” in A Robertson and HW Tang (eds), The Goals of Private Law (Hart 2009) 165, 187–190 Google Scholar; Stapleton, J, “Cause in Fact and the Scope of Liability for Consequences” (2003) 119 Law Quarterly Review 388 Google Scholar. See also Gregg v Scott  UKHL 2,  2 AC 176.
62 See section II.2.
63 Wilberg, supra, note 63, 422.
64 Cane, supra, note 61, 42.
65 For references see De Jong and van der Linden, supra, note 61.
66 See on transparency also Plunkett, supra, note 61, 366.
67 Burns, supra, note 61, 100–104.
69 Sunstein, supra, note 71, 4.
70 Ie facts that are needed to decide the legal question at hand. Monahan, J and Walker, L, Social Science in Law (4th edn, The Foundation Press 1998)Google Scholar. See also Monahan, J and Walker, L, “A Judges’ Guide to Using Social Science” (2007) 43 Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association 156 Google Scholar.
71 That is, facts to place the adjudicative facts into the relevant social context, such as the occurrence and characteristic of a risk in the given and similar circumstances.
72 That is, facts that are related to the potential regulatory effects of a specific decision, for instance effects on the insurability of a risk.
73 See also Cane, supra, note 19; Harowitz, DL, The Courts and Social Policy (Brooking Institution Press 1977) 30–33, 35–38 Google Scholar; Fuller and Winston, supra, note 55; Shapiro, M, Courts: A Comparative and Political Analysis (Chicago 1981) 13 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Barber, N, “Prelude to the Separation of Powers” (2001) 60 Cambridge Law Journal 59, 76 Google Scholar.
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75 Cane, supra, note 19, 313; van Boom, WH, Efficacious Enforcement in Contract and Tort (Boom juridische uitgevers 2006) 47 Google Scholar.
76 Cane, supra, note 19, 314–315.
77 In some legal systems, the need for social and legislative facts can be met through the instrument of amicus curiae or, inter alia, third party intervention in disputes. Despite the availability of these mechanisms information deficits can, however, still occur. For example, a recent (empirical) Dutch study indicates that, although the Supreme Court judges and an Advocate General welcome the amicus curiae, they also observe that some organisations, such as consumer organisations, are under-represented as friends to the courts. Giesen, I, Kristen, F and de Jong, ER (et al), De Wet prejudiciële vragen aan de Hoge Raad: een tussentijdse evaluatie in het licht van de mogelijke invoering in het strafrecht (Boomjuridisch 2016)Google Scholar. Within the common law world, Kirkby signals a reluctance approach of courts in England and Australia to make use of these kind of mechanisms in the context of public interest litigation. Kirkby, M, “Deconstructing the Law’s hostility to public interest litigation” (2011) Law Quarterly Review 2529 Google Scholar.
78 Posner, supra, note 46, 54–55.
79 See in the context of regulation vs. litigation Faure, supra, note 2, 693.
80 Cane, supra, note 61, 41.
82 Van Boom, supra, note 78, 47.
83 Ie the financial bad and good chances of initiating a legal procedure, which are determined by the size and extent of the compensation available and obtainable (think of the possibility to obtain punitive damages), the applicable rules on costs awards, funding models for lawyers, and the actual availability of financial means to litigate.
84 Magnus, U, “Why is US tort law so different?” (2010) 1 Journal of European Tort Law 102 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, eg in the US interest groups are financially better organised than in The Netherlands. See also Cummings, SL and Rhode, DL, “Public interest litigation: Insights from theory and practice” (2009) Fordham Urban Law Journal 36, 603 Google Scholar.
85 MacCormick, supra, note 61, c 6; Robertson, supra, note 61, 119.
86 See on this topic also Van Dam, supra, note 12, 234–258; Howarth, D, “The General Conditions of Unlawfulness” in AS Hartkamp and others (eds), Towards a European Civil Code (4th edn, Wolters Kluwer 2011) 845 Google Scholar.
Variations are accepted in inter alia the US and Australia. See for the US Restatement (third) of Torts 2010; Liability for physical harm, § 3 and § 3 E to F; D Dobbs, The Law of Torts (Group West 2000) para. 145. For Australia see Trindade, F and Cane, P, The Law of Torts in Australia (5th edn, Oxford University Press 2012) 341 et sqqGoogle Scholar.
88 Cousy, H, “Risks and Uncertainties in the Law of Tort” in H Koziol and BC Steiniger (eds), Tort and Insurance Law, European Tort Law 2006 (Springer-Verlag 2008)Google Scholar; Spier, supra, note 90, 501.
89 Eg Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
90 See eg Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy, Uncertain Safety (University Press Amsterdam 2009) 15 Google Scholar.
91 HR 25 November 2005, ECLI:NL:HR:2005:AT8782, NJ 2009/103, comm. I Giesen (Eternit/Horsting).
92 Sunstein, supra, note 71, 4.
93 It is important to stress that the foregoing does not mean that the defendant cannot escape liability at all; for example he could successfully challenge the existence of a generic causal relation. See also Cane, supra, note 19, 314.
94 Van Dam, supra, note 12, 310–311.
96 See, for a comparative overview, Giesen, I, “The Burden of Proof and Other Procedural Devices in Tort Law” (2008) European Tort Law 49 Google Scholar.
97 The exact details of these legal theories differ per legal system. See Gilead, I, Green, M and Koch, BA (eds), Proportional Liability: Analytical and Comparative Perspectives (De Gruyter 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Martín-Casals and Papayannis, supra, note 98, and Steel, supra, note 64, 269, 371, 381; Giesen, De Jong and Overheul, supra, note 23, 189. See, on the development of such theories in relation to risk, Dyson, supra, note 9.
98 See n 100.
100 Nolan, supra, note 64, 172.
101 I Gilead, M Green and BA Koch, “General Report” in Gilead, Green and Koch, supra, note 100, 43 et sqq.
102 Nolan, supra, note 64, 187–190; see also Fleming, J, “Probabilistic causation in tort law” (1989) 68 Canadian Bar Review 661, 662–663 Google Scholar.
103 Steel, supra, note 64, 269 and 371–381. Steel refers to English, German and US Courts.
104 See in general Nolan, supra, note 64, 165–190.
105 Spier, supra, note 60, 223.
106 Eg Berger, supra, note 52, 2117–2153, 2217–2152.
107 Martin-Casals and Papayannis, supra, note 98, 4; Nolan, supra, note 64, 189.
108 This argument clearly makes sense when there is no scientific evidence for the existence of causation at all (unknown risks). The question is whether the argument holds in situations of uncertain risks, where there is an indication of a causal relation.
109 Jonas, H, Das Prinzip Verantwortung (Insel Verlag 1979)Google Scholar; Ewald, F, “The Return of the Crafty Genius: An Outline of a Philosophy of Precaution” (1999) 6 Connecticut Insurance Law Journal 47 Google Scholar; Ewald, F, “The Return of Descartes’s Malicious Demon: An Outline of a Philosophy of Precaution” in T Baker and J Simon (eds), Embracing Risk. The Changing Culture of Insurance and Responsibility (University of Chicago Press 2002) 273–301 Google Scholar; Cousy, supra, note 91.
110 Cousy, supra, note 91, 18; COM (2000) 1 Communication on the precautionary principle.
111 See in general, on the relationship between strict liability and the precautionary principle, Cousy, supra, note 91, 18. See, on this issue from a law and economic perspective, Faure, MG, Visscher, L and Weber, F, “Liability for Unknown Risks. A Law and Economics Perspective” (2016) 2 European Journal of European Tort Law 198CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also the same issue of that journal for liability for uncertain risks and Spier, supra, note 90.
112 See the end of section III.
113 Particularly if the claim is negligence-based.
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