Posts Tagged ‘punitive damages’

My Law and Public Health Book

November 1st, 2010 2 comments
Reconsidering Law and Policy Debates

Just about an hour ago, I received my ten advance copies of the book I’ve edited and contributed to, entitled:

Reconsidering Law and Policy Debates: A Public Health Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2011). If you click on the link, you’ll be e-whisked away to the on-line catalogue page, which describes the book and lets you click on an excerpt, which is the Introduction (which I wrote).

I’ll have more to say about this when officially published (although you can order it now; just saying….), but here’s the description:

This book offers fresh approaches to a variety of social and political issues that have become highly polarized and resistant to compromise by examining them through a population-based public health perspective. The topics included are some of the most contentious: abortion and reproductive rights; end-of-life issues, including the right to die and the treatment of pain; the connection between racism and poor health outcomes for African-Americans; the right of same-sex couples to marry; the toll of gun violence and how to reduce it; domestic violence and how the criminal justice model fails to deal with it effectively; and how tort compensation and punitive damages can further public health goals. People at every point along the political spectrum will find the book enlightening and informative.

Written by ten authors, all of whom have cross-disciplinary expertise, this book shifts the focus away from the point of view of rights, politics, or morality and examines the effect of laws and policies from the perspective of public health and welfare.

As you might guess, I wrote the chapter on marriage equality.

This is my first book (well, sort of mine), and I’m very excited. (To buy at a discount, enter code: F10CULHANE; the discount is available for a limited time.) As I said, I’ll write more when the book is officially published.

Family Has Strong Tort Actions in Clementi Suicide Case

October 1st, 2010 No comments

The horrible tragedy of Tyler Clementi’s suicide — doubtless precipitated by the cruel acts of a classmate in taping the young man’s private sexual activity, then posting it on the internet — has stirred an animated and at times angry debate over the appropriate criminal sanctions. The acts are clearly crimes in themselves (with five years’ imprisonment the stiffest penalty for the unconsented posting), but some have asked, rightly, whether the actions could also be charged under the law of involuntary homicide.

While this would be difficult, it’s not impossible: the prosecution would have to prove that the actions were reasonably foreseeable as a result of the bullying. Not so easy to establish, and I’m guessing the prosecutor will shy away from a case that’s so hard to prove. And I’m not sure that I think that punishment would really fit the crime.

But…I’ve not yet seen much discussion of the Clementi family’s civil law remedies. Under the law of torts, Clementi had claims for invasion of privacy (for both the intrusion on his seclusion, as the tort is called, and for the publication of private facts) as well as for the tort of either intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress (the former is the much stronger case here). Under the law in most states, these claims passed to his estate (probably his parents) upon his death.

The death itself is actionable as a wrongful death, allowing certain classes of beneficiaries (his parents, possibly any siblings) to recover for the value of his life to them. (Such damages include any actual cash value they could have expected to receive, and, in many states, any emotional loss as well.)

Finally, since the actions were intentional and especially egregious, punitive damages (to punish and to deter future, similar wrongdoing) might also be available.

Of course, Tyler’s parents may not wish to pursue these remedies, legitimately thinking that doing so would force them to relive the tragedy and details they’d sooner forget. But the claims are there, and the tort law, like the criminal law, can serve as a powerful deterrent to the next idiot who thinks this kind of thing is funny.

Here’s a photo of the late Tyler, doing what he loved: