Fault Lines: Tort Law as Cultural Practice

By David M. Engel; Michael McCann | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
Discourses of Causation in Injury Cases
Exploring Thai and American Legal Cultures

DAVID M. ENGEL

An old friend who lived in Thailand for a number of years told me a true
story he heard on a recent visit there.1 The story concerned a traditional
healer in Northern Thailand who was known to have the ability to see far
into the past and future. A woman with cancer went to him to learn the
cause of her affliction. The healer meditated and saw into the woman's
previous life when she had been a food vendor. In her former existence,
the woman had severely beaten three other food sellers, creating a burden
of bad karma that was being discharged in her current life and had caused
her illness. What could she do? The healer again used his vision to see that
the food seller's former victims had also been reincarnated as women liv-
ing nearby. Go to see them, urged the healer. Beg their forgiveness. And so
the woman with cancer sought out each of these three total strangers, pre-
sented them with gifts, and apologized for wrongs she had committed in a
former life. None of the women thought this was strange. All understood
that the chain of cause and effect could stretch back across years and life
times. After she made amends, the woman's cancer went into remission.

This chapter explores discourses of causation in tort law and in everyday life.2 Familiar, culturally based explanations of the causation of injuries and illness may differ significantly from formal legal concepts and usages. In this chapter, I suggest that an analysis of such differences can help us understand how ordinary people perceive tort law and how tort law functions in society. The discussion that follows is comparative, juxtaposing two very different societies—Thailand and the United States. In both settings, social and cultural changes have brought new understandings of causation with important implications for the invocation and administration of tort law. The chapter concludes with general observations

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