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Tort Law–Deterrence and Avoiding Self-Help

Tort Law–Deterrence and Avoiding Self-Help

Tort Law–Deterrence and Avoiding Self-Help

Apart from legislation granting a right to sue for a specific harm, personal injury law generally consists of tort law and the civil procedure for enforcing it. Most scholars agree that tort law has four purposes: (1) compensation for damages; (2) financial responsibility; (3) deterrence; and (4) avoiding self-help. This article discusses the purposes of deterrence and avoiding self-help.

Deterrence

The third purpose of tort law is to discourage those with a propensity to engage in tortious conduct to from engaging in tortious conduct. Tort law encourages those with a propensity to engage in tortious conduct to not engage in tortious conduct, or if they do, to be financially responsible for their tortious conduct. Tort law encourages all persons and entities in society to peacefully co-exist.

The financial coercion of tort law particularly affects those engaged in business and the professions. The threat of lawsuits by tort victims encourages businesses to sell safe products and services in a safe environment. The threat of lawsuits by tort victims encourages professionals to perform their professional services in a competent and professional manner.

Besides financial coercion, tort law defines some of the limits of legal conduct for law-abiding citizens. Most people are or try to be law-abiding citizens. Most people will obey the law or try to obey the law in the spirit of reasonableness. Most people will obey the law or try to obey the law to keep a clear conscience.

Avoiding Self-Help

The fourth purpose of tort law is to discourage tort victims from engaging in self-help. Self-help is the taking of actions other than legal processes to protect one’s person or property.

A desire to engage in self-help is often the first emotional reaction to learning that one’s rights have been violated. From the point of view of society, however, self-help is not the most civilized reaction. Peaceful co-existence is not the usual result when, immediately after the injustice has been committed, victims confront the those who have engaged in tortious conduct. Although there are exceptions, in a civilized society, judgment of a person who has allegedly engaged in tortious conduct is usually best left to sober judges and a jury of the person’s peers.

Remember that it is never permissible to take physical revenge. Physical revenge tends to create a cycle of violence. Tort law encourages tort victims to get their “revenge” in a civilized manner: by retaining an attorney and filing a lawsuit.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.