Tarasoff

Report
Anglo-American
Contract and Torts
Prof. Mark P. Gergen
Class Three
American negligence law: duty
When is there a duty to use reasonable care to protect another
from a harm doer?
Often a duty to protect is based on an actor’s relationship to
victim. Familiar relationships that create a duty of care include:
•common carrier to passenger
•hotel to guest
•landlord to tenant
•landowner to business visitor
•university to student on campus
Easy cases—duty to manage an area under the actor’s control to
protect people the actor serves from normal carelessness, e.g.,
provide sufficient lighting on walkways, regulate traffic to minimize
risks, clean up floors to avoid slips and falls, etc . . .
Duty to protect from criminal conduct based on relationship to
victim
Kline v. 1500 Mass. Ave Apartment, (D.C. Cir. 1970) p. 41, extends
this logic holding a landlord liable for having poor security when a
tenant is attacked.
This NY case is similar. It is part of the legal back drop of McCarthy:
Nallan v. Helmsley-Spear, Inc, 407 N.E.2d 451 (NY 1980)—P is shot
in the lobby of a building. He sues the landlord claiming it had a
duty to provide security because of prior criminal incidents. Held
landlord has a duty to provide security in common areas. See p.
13.
In Tarasoff the duty is based on the relationship to the harm-doer.
The court builds on prior California cases holding that a physician
who treats a patient with a communicable disease or some other
condition presenting a danger to others has a duty to inform the
patient of the risk the condition poses to others and is liable to the
others for failing to do so when they are harmed as a result.
The court in Tarasoff is considering whether to impose a duty to
warn the person endangered by the patient or to restrain the
patient. Is this more worrisome than imposing a duty to advise a
patient about a condition endangering others? Why?
Tarasoff limits the psychologist’s duty to a duty to warn. The court
rejects the claim for negligent failure to confine. Later cases in
California and elsewhere in the US in the wake of Tarasoff further
limit the duty to mental health professionals who receive specific
notice of an intent to harm a specific person. Why is the duty so
narrowed?
Purdy v. Public Adm’r of Westchester, 526 N.E.2d 4 (NY 1988)—
elderly resident of nursing home suffers a blackout while driving,
injuring P. P sues nursing home claiming it had a duty to prevent
her from driving since it was aware her medical condition made it
dangerous for her to drive. Held no duty.
Given the reluctance of the California Supreme Court to impose
anything more than a narrow duty in Tarasoff are you surprised
with the result in this case? Do you see an underlying pattern?
The 3rd Restatement § 41 defines the special relationships
that give rise to a duty to control as including
(1) a parent with dependent children,
(2) a custodian with those in its custody,
(3) an employer with employees when the employment
facilitates the employee’s causing harm to third
parties, and
(4) a mental-health professional with patients.
Setting aside case (3), can you think of any features that
unify these cases? Is case (3) explicable as an instance of
misfeasance?
The duty of control is not equivalent to making a parent liable
for the torts of a child. A parent is liable only if they fail to
exercise reasonable control over a child and this harms the
plaintiff.
McCarthy v. Olin Corp., Supp 2
Colin Ferguson kills 6 passengers and wounds 19 on the LIRR. He
is armed with automatic handgun using “Black Talon” bullets,
which are designed to expand on impact.
Some of the victims sue Olin, the manufacturer of the bullets, as
well as other defendants.
The suit is in federal court. New York law governs.
The district court dismisses the complaint on a 12(b)(6) motion
for “failure to state a claim.”
The plaintiffs argue on appeal either their complaint states a
claim under NY law or the question is sufficiently unclear that it
should be certified to the New York Court of Appeals to resolve.
The majority finds it is clear there is no claim under New York
law. Calabresi dissents saying there may and he would ask the
New York Court of Appeals to resolve the question.
Guido Calabresi was a leading US torts scholar before becoming Dean of
Yale Law School and eventually being appointed to the US Court of Appeals.
The majority characterizes the legal issue as whether New York
would recognize a duty of control in this situation in the absence
of a special relationship.
"[C]ommon law in the State of New York does not impose a duty to control the
conduct of third persons to prevent them from causing injury to others. This is so
... even where as a practical matter defendant could have exercised such control."
Purdy v. Public Adm'r of County of Westchester . . . . While there are of course
many exceptions to this rule, we find that none of them is applicable here.
. . . . As the district court pointed out, appellants have not alleged that any special
relationship existed between Olin and Ferguson. Here, Olin could not control the
actions of Ferguson. "[I]t is unreasonable to impose [a] duty where the realities of
every day experience show us that, regardless of the measures taken, there is little
expectation that the one made responsible could prevent the ... conduct [of
another].“ Supp. p. 5.
Do the plaintiff’s claim that Olin was negligent in failing to control
Ferguson? Or do they claim that Olin was negligent in marketing
especially lethal bullets in a way that made the bullets accessible
to a madman? See p. 4, beginning of Part III. According to the
plaintiffs is this a nonfeasance case or a misfeasance case?
Framing the claim as one of misfeasance brings to the fore some
other authorities discussed by Calabresi . . .
Codling v. Paglia, 298 N.E.2d 622 (NY 1973)—Codling loses control
of car manufactured by Chrysler as a result of her negligent driving
and a defect in the car. She collides into P. Held Chrysler is subject
to liability to P because the defect contributed to the accident.
A car owner negligently leaves the keys in the ignition of an
unlocked car. A thief steals the car and runs over a pedestrian.
Note f, p. 14-15, observes most courts hold the owner is not liable
to the pedestrian but that “a substantial and growing” number
allow the claim. NY courts initially allowed the claim. Then
reversed position. Then the original rule of liability was reinstated
by legislation.
Calabresi characterizes the issue not as whether there is a duty
to control, but rather whether Olin is absolved from the general
duty of reasonable care because the harm was caused by the
intervening acts of another person (pp. 12-13).
But the issue is nowhere near as simple as that. New York law is, in fact,
quite clear that the defendant in many circumstances can be under a duty to
the plaintiff that makes him liable for the harm caused by the intervening
negligent acts of a third party. . . . .
Moreover, in cases such as this one involving the introduction of goods into
the stream of commerce, New York courts have had little difficulty in holding
the original seller to have a duty not only to the purchaser and parties having
a direct relationship with the purchaser, but also to third-party bystanders.
[He cites Codling v. Paglia.] . . . .
In fact, under appropriate conditions, a defendant can even be held liable for
the intervening criminal acts of a third party. [He cites Nallan.] . . . .
This makes Purdy (the claim against a nursing home for failing to
prevent resident from driving car) puzzling to Calabresi (see p.
33).
What then does the New York Court of Appeals mean when it says that it has
“ imposed a duty to control the conduct of others where there is a
special relationship: a relationship between defendant and [an
intervenor] whose actions expose plaintiff to harm such as would
require the defendant to attempt to control the third person's conduct;
or a relationship between the defendant and plaintiff requiring
defendant to protect the plaintiff from the conduct of others[?]”
Purdy, 530 N.Y.S.2d at 516, 526 N.E.2d at 7.
And this is how Calabresi solves the puzzle.
“the cases in which New York courts have refused to find the requisite
relationship are ones in which the defendant did not have much of an
opportunity to prevent the harm . . . .and in which imposing a duty would
expose the defendant to liability ‘beyond sound public policy,’ . . . That is, they
are the rather unusual cases where the allowance of liability would create
‘disproportionate risk and reparation allocation, and [would violate] public
policies affecting the expansion or limitation of new channels of liability.’”
Which leaves the result in McCarthy a cipher to Calabresi.
“What of this case? On the one hand, it seems that the defendant could have
substantially reduced the harm caused by these unusually destructive bullets
by not marketing them to the general public. And the danger of exposing the
defendant to liability beyond sound public policy might not be present here,
especially if the New York courts were to conclude that marketing Black Talons
to the general public causes more harm than benefit. On the other hand, this
case may well involve ‘the expansion ... of new channels of liability,’ . . . since it
involves a criminal intervenor in a case where no direct relationship exists
between the injured plaintiff and the defendant.”
Calabresi is not arguing that there is a duty of care under NY law.
He is arguing that he cannot determine what a NY court would
say looking at the NY cases. He concludes this is a “public policy
decision . . . the New York Court of Appeals has retained for itself
. . . . We are simply not entitled to make policy for the State of
New York. Such is a task for the State’s highest tribunal.”
Do you find anything surprising about this description of the
role of the New York court?
Calabresi’s description of the negligence action is equally
striking . . .
Calabresi on duty and the division of power between judge and
jury, Supp. pp. 11-12.
“ In many jurisdictions, the existence of a duty depends primarily on 1)
the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff that would flow from the
defendant's negligent acts, and 2) the absence of actions on the part of
the plaintiff--like trespass or assumption of risk--that either destroy or
lessen the defendant's liability. In those jurisdictions, it is rarely
worthwhile discussing duty separately from the existence of
negligence, proximate cause, and special plaintiff attributes. In the
absence of such plaintiff-based defenses, a general duty to refrain from
causing foreseeable and unreasonable harm is assumed to exist.” Supp
p. 11.
That is not, however, the law in New York. Under New York law, the
question of the existence of a "[d]uty in negligence cases is [not]
defined ... by foreseeability of injury." . . . . Rather, the determination of
the existence of a duty is a decision of public policy that the New York
Court of Appeals has expressly retained for itself (and the courts
generally).” Supp p. 11
“Unlike foreseeability and causation, which are issues generally and
more suitably entrusted to fact finder adjudication, the definition of
the existence and scope of an alleged tortfeasor's duty is usually a
legal, policy- laden declaration reserved for Judges to make prior to
submitting anything to fact-finding or jury consideration.” Supp p. 11.
This does not mean that the court is required--or even permitted--to
weigh such policy considerations to determine the existence of a duty in
each individual New York negligence case. Once the New York Court of
Appeals has established that the relationship between plaintiffs and
defendants in certain circumstances or categories of cases suffices to
establish a duty of due care, all cases of like kind are covered by that
finding, and there is no warrant to take a case from the jury for a
separate judicial examination of duty.” Supp. p. 12.
Calabresi is making a series of claims. One is a descriptive
claim about the scope of the negligence action in many states
(but not NY): “a general duty to refrain from causing
foreseeable and unreasonable harm is assumed to exist.”
“An actor ordinarily has a duty to exercise reasonable care
when the actor’s conduct creates a risk of physical harm.”
Third Restatement § 7(a)(2011).
“An actor whose negligence is a factual cause of physical
harm is subject to liability for any such harm within the
scope of liability . . . .” Third Restatement § 6.
Duty if action creates a foreseeable
and direct risk of physical harm to
another if the action is done carelessly
Duty if conduct creates a risk of physical
harm
Liability for carelessly caused harm
Calabresi also is making a claim about the proper form of duty
determinations. They are done by a categorical rule or standard
that applies beyond the immediate case.
This does not mean that the court is required--or even permitted--to
weigh such policy considerations to determine the existence of a duty in
each individual New York negligence case. Once the New York Court of
Appeals has established that the relationship between plaintiffs and
defendants in certain circumstances or categories of cases suffices to
establish a duty of due care, all cases of like kind are covered by that
finding, and there is no warrant to take a case from the jury for a
separate judicial examination of duty.” Supp. p. 12.
I expand on this point and supply further authority for the
proposition at pp. 24-25.
“An actor whose negligence is a factual cause of physical harm is
subject to liability for any such harm within the scope of liability,
unless the court determines that the ordinary duty of reasonable
care in inapplicable.”
Restatement Third, Torts (2011) § 6
a) An actor ordinarily has a duty to exercise reasonable care
when the actor’s conduct creates a risk of physical harm.
b) In exceptional cases, when an articulated countervailing
principle or policy warrants denying liability in a particular
class of cases, a court may decide that the defendant has no
duty or that the ordinary duty of reasonable care requires
modification.
Third Restatement § 7
No-duty or limited-duty rules are the exception.
They require special justification by an “articulated”
principle or policy.
This is not done case by case, but for “a particular class of
cases.”
A special no-duty or limited duty rule must satisfy both
substantive and formal desiderata (“things to be desired”).
Substantive—Do reasons of policy or fairness justify a
special rule in this category cases?
Formal—Is the rule clear? Is the rule coherent? Does it
admit to consistent application?
Finally Calabresi says this about the purpose of negligence law . .
. (pp. 11-12)
The common law of torts is, at its foundation, a means of apportioning risks
and allocating the burden of loss. While moral and logical judgments are
significant components of the analysis, we are also bound to consider the
larger social consequences of our decisions and to tailor our notion of duty
so that the legal consequences of wrongs are limited to a controllable
degree. . .the definition of the existence and scope of an alleged tortfeasor's
duty is usually a legal, policy- laden declaration reserved for Judges to make
prior to submitting anything to fact-finding or jury consideration. Commonlaw experience teaches that duty is not something derived or discerned
from an algebraic formula. Rather, it coalesces from vectored forces
including logic, science, weighty competing socioeconomic policies and
sometimes contractual assumptions of responsibility. These sources
contribute to pinpointing and apportioning of societal risks and to an
allocation of burdens of loss and reparation on a fair, prudent basis.

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