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A waiter spills hot coffee on a customer. A person walks on another person’s land. A moored boat damages a dock during a storm. A frustrated neighbor bangs on the wall. A reputation is ruined by a mistaken news report. Although the details vary, the law recognizes all of these as torts, different ways in which one person wrongs another. Tort law can seem puzzling: sometimes people are made to pay damages when they are barely or not at fault, while at other times serious losses go uncompensated. In this pioneering book, Arthur Ripstein brings coherence and unity to the baffling diversity of tort law in an original theory that is philosophically grounded and analytically powerful.
Ripstein shows that all torts violate the basic moral idea that each individual is in charge of his or her own person and property, and never in charge of another individual’s person or property. Battery and trespass involve one person wrongly using another’s body or things, while negligence injures others by imposing risks to them in ways that are inconsistent with their independence. Tort remedies aim to provide a substitute for the right that was violated.
As Private Wrongs makes clear, tort law not only protects our bodies and property but constitutes our entitlement to use them as we see fit, consistent with the entitlement of others to do the same.