Accident Law for Egalitarians


This paper questions the fairness of our current tort law regime and the philosophical underpinnings advanced in its defense, a theory known as corrective justice. Fairness requires the moral equality and responsibility of persons be respected in social interactions and institutions. The concept of luck has been used by many egalitarians as a way of giving content to fairness by differentiating between those benefits and burdens which result from informed choice from those that result from fate or fortune. We argue that the theory of corrective justice, and its institutional embodiment of tort law, is at odds with an egalitarian commitment to fairness because it allows luck an unjustifiable role in determining dissimilar liability for similar wrongs, and dissimilar compensation for similar losses to bodily integrity. Many egalitarian political theorists have also recognized, if not defended, the notion of distinct forms of justice, namely corrective, retributive, and distributive. Although theorists of these different forms of justice have been concerned with negating unfair luck inside the operations of each form of justice, there has been little attention to the way in which luck operates to sort cases into each form of justice. We claim that there is a significant way in which luck operates to subject different people to principles of corrective, retributive, and distributive justice - and thereby assessing dissimilar liability for similar wrongs and disparate compensation for similar losses - which flies in the face of the egalitarian value of fairness: a commitment to treating people as moral equals with like interests in being responsible for their own lives. After surveying the arguments put forward by theorists defending a categorical distinction of corrective justice from retributive and distributive principles, we argued that, although analytical distinctions can be made between different forms of justice, (although, we also suggest that the distinctions were not as sharp as some commentators suggest) there is no good reason to defend an acoustic separation between these forms of justice when doing so creates unfair outcomes. We conclude the paper by noting that there are various institutional approaches which could remedy the unfair role of luck we identified in liability and compensation, and by proposing a rough sketch of one such possible alternative to the current tort law system.



Date of this Version

October 2005