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12:00pm - Speaker Series: John Witt, Yale Law School

  • When: October 23, 2019, 12 pm–1:30 am
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th floor, Lakeside, Chicago, IL 60611

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Tort as Private Administration

What does tort law do?  This Article develops an account of the law of torts for the age of settlement.  A century ago, leading torts jurists proposed that tort doctrine’s main function was to allocate authority between judge and jury.  In the era of the disappearing trial, we propose that tort law’s hidden function is to shape the process by which private parties settle.  In particular, core doctrines in tort help to structure and sustain the systems of private administration by which injury claims are actually resolved.  Though an observer could hardly guess it from judge-centric theories of tort or by reading the typical reported appellate cases, repeat-play stakeholders such as the plaintiffs’ bar, insurers, and others are developing and managing claims resolution facilities that have turned the resolution of one-off tort claims in the United States into something akin to aggregate litigation or a public compensation program.  Hidden deep in the shadows of the law, private administration is becoming a standard feature of torts practice with substantial implications for the theory of tort law and litigation.

Photo and bio courtesy of Yale Law School

John Fabian Witt is Allen H. Duffy Class of 1960 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. His most recent book Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History was awarded the 2013 Bancroft Prize, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, was selected for the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book for 2012. Professor Witt is currently writing the story of the men and women behind the Garland Fund: the 1920s foundation that quietly financed the efforts that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education. He is also co-editing a scholarly edition of a lost nineteenth-century manuscript on martial law, tentatively titled To Save the Country: A Lost Manuscript of the Civil War Constitution, which is forthcoming with Yale University Press.

Previous writing includes Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2007), and the prizewinning book, The Accidental Republic: Crippled Workingmen, Destitute Widows, and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2004), as well as articles in the American Historical Review, the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, and other scholarly journals. He has written for the New York Times, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. In 2010 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship for his project on the laws of war in American history. Professor Witt is a graduate of Yale Law School and Yale College and he holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as law clerk to Judge Pierre N. Leval on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Professor Witt’s casebook, Torts: Cases, Principles, and Institutions (2nd ed. 2016), is available for free on a Creative Commons license at https://www.cali.org/user/671896.

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