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6 Law & Phil. 1 (1987)

handle is hein.journals/lwphil6 and id is 1 raw text is: LARRY A. ALEXANDER

The fact that a particular defendant's conduct was a but for cause of
an injury to a particular plaintiff, which fact is a necessary condition
for the plaintiff's recovering corrective damages from the defendant,
is the fundamental building block of all tort law. Regardless of what
other conditions, if any, tort law imposes as necessary for plaintiff's
recovering from the defendant - proximate causation, foreseeability,
negligence or recklessness or intent, design defect - a but for causal
link between the plaintiff's injury and the defendant's conduct is
essential. No causation, no tort.
In this essay, I intend to examine the relevance of but for causa-
tion - that is, the relevance of tort law - to any of the proper norma-
tive concerns of the legal system. In part this examination is prompted
by some recent cases, such as the Sindell 1 case, in which plaintiff's
recovery is based upon a relation to the defendant's(s') conduct other
than proof that the latter was a but for cause of plaintiff's injury.
But this examination of the role of causation in compensation for
injury is also prompted by a more thoroughgoing puzzlement over
why the law looks backward in dealing with claims to compensa-
tion. I shall conclude that the case for but for causation cannot
rest on the existence of something called corrective justice to which
it is central and which within its domain trumps both retributive
and distributive justice concerns. Moreover, I conclude that neither
I Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories, 26 Cal. 3d 588; 607 P. 2d 924; 163 Cal.
Rptr. 132, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 912 (1980). Sindell has provoked some philos-
ophical discussion of the relation between causation and liability. See
Thomson, 'Remarks on Causation and Liability', Philosophy & Public Affairs
13 (1984): 101; Fischer & Ennis, 'Causation and Liability', Philosophy & Public
Affairs 15 (1986): 33; Kagan, 'Causation, Liability, and Internalism', Philosophy
& Public Affairs 15 (1986): 41; Thomson, 'A Note on Internalism', Philosophy
& Public Affairs 15 (1986): 60; The Sindell case is described in note 27.
Law and Philosophy 6 (1987) 1-23.
0 1987 D. Reidel Publishing Company.

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