October 2007, Volume 93, Issue 6|
The (Hidden) Risk of Opportunistic Precautions
93 Va. L. Rev. 1389 (2007)
Under the conventional tort law paradigm, a tortfeasor behaves unreasonably when two conditions are met: the tortfeasor could have averted the harm by investing in cost-effective precautions and failed to do so, and other, more cost-effective precautions were not available to the victim. Torts scholarship has long argued that making such a tortfeasor responsible for the ensuing harm induces optimal care. This Article shows that by applying the conventional analysis, courts create incentives for opportunistic investments in prevention. In order to shift liability to others, parties might deliberately invest in precautions even where such investments are inefficient. The Article presents two possible solutions to the problem. By instituting a combination of (1) broader restitution rules and (2) an extended risk-utility standard, legislators and judges can reform tort law to discourage opportunistic precautions and maximize social welfare.
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