Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

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Law & Economics Working Papers


This Article considers the possibility of imposing liability in torts for a wrongfully created risk of future harm. We examine the American and English court decisions pertaining to this issue and consider whether a probability-based compensation for the victim's expected—albeit not yet materialized—harm is just and efficient. We demonstrate how the virtues of a legal regime that allows a tort victim to recover compensation for her expected harm overshadow its vices. We conclude that a person's risk of sustaining harm in the future should be actionable whenever the risk is substantial. We further conclude that it should be left to the victim to decide whether to recover for his or her expected harm, or else wait and see if the risk materializes and recover only if it does. We observe that allowing victims to make this choice might create a collective action problem. Because expedited compensation for a victim's expected harm erodes the wrongdoer's ability to compensate future claimants, victims would opt for an early recovery for expected harm even when their substantive remedial preferences are different. We demonstrate, however, that this problem can be resolved.



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