Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

Tort Law, Risk, and Technological Innovation in England

Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

Tort Law, Risk, and Technological Innovation in England

Article excerpt

This paper considers the impact of technological innovation--and the risks arising from it--on the development of English tort law in the modern era, dating from around 1750, At a time when the old forms of action were losing their grip, unprecedented social changes resulted from the Industrial Revolution and the risks that it created. New mechanisms (insurance, regulation and social welfare) were introduced to control these risks and mitigate their effects. Tort law too was obliged to adapt, and its modern contours bear the mark of this history. However, fundamental questions about the proper function of tort law relative to alternative compensatory and regulatory mechanisms remain to be satisfactorily resolved.

Cet article se penche sur l'impact de l'innovation technologique, et des risques qui en decoulent, sur le developpement du droit anglais de la responsabilite delictuelle dans l'ere moderne, qui debuta vers 1750. A une epoque ou les vieilles formes d'actions perdaient en importance, la revolution industrielle et les risques qu'elle engendra produisirent des changements sociaux sans precedent. On introduisit de nouveaux mecanismes, tels l'assurance, la reglementation et l'assistance sociale, afin de controler ces risques et d'attenuer leurs effets. Le droit de la responsabilite delictuelle dut aussi s'adapter et sa forme moderne porte encore l'empreinte de cette histoire. Cependant, des questions fondamentales concernant la fonction appropriee du droit de la responsabilite delictuelle et des mecanismes alternatifs reglementaires et de compensation demeurent irresolues.

Introduction

I.  Technological Innovation and its Impact on
    Tort Law

     A.  Road Building and Carriage Construction:
         Highway Accidents in die Eighteenth and
         Nineteenth Centuries
     B.  Construction and Engineering Technology:
         Bursting Reservoirs, Leaking Dams, and the
         Acceptance of Strict Liability
     C.  Modern Transport: The Railways and the
         Motor Car
         1.  Setting the Scene
         2.  The Railways
         3.  The Motor Car
     D.  The Industrial Workplace
     E.  Assessing the Impact of Technological Innovation
         on Tort Law'
II.  Technologies for Controlling Risk
     A.  Insurance
     B.  Regulation
     C.  Social Welfare
Conclusion

Introduction

This paper considers the impact of technological innovation--and the risks arising from it--on the development of English tort law. It concentrates on the latter's formative period in the decades leading up to the abolition of the old forms of action in 1875 and the transition to the modern law. (1) As the hold of the former procedural categories loosened, courts and scholars engaged in the task of rethinking fundamental questions--in particular, the proper balance between strict liability and liability for fault. (2) During broadly the same period, the Industrial Revolution--beginning around 1750--also wrought fundamental changes to English society, and brought unprecedented risks alongside the undoubted benefits. The question that arises is whether and to what extent the massive technological and social changes that resulted impacted the development of the law of tort as it acquired its modern form. (3) That is the focus of Part I of the paper.

But the inquiry has a further dimension. Tort law's development was shaped not only by the risks created by technological innovation but also by the alternative compensatory and regulatory "technologies" that were introduced to control those risks or mitigate their effects. Tort law's interaction with these other systems--insurance, regulation, and social welfare--gave rise to immediate practical issues, and raised fundamental and still not fully resolved questions about tort law's function in modern society. Part II addresses these issues.

I. Technological Innovation and its Impact on Tort Law

A. Road Building and Carriage Construction: Highway Accidents in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Even in the days of horse-drawn carriages, the highway could be a dangerous place, the more so as technological advances led to considerable increases in speed: from 4-5 m. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.