May 1, 2008
Professor creates hybrid, blending criminal law and law of torts
Professor Thomas H. Koenig, Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and a founding member of Northeastern’s Law, Policy and Society Ph.D. program was the lead speaker at a recent conference at Weidner Law School that focused on his concept of “crimtorts.” The term “crimtorts” was coined by Koenig and Michael Rustad, a professor at Suffolk University Law School, to describe a doctrinal approach that blends the principles of criminal law and the law of torts. Koenig’s article, entitled, “Crimtorts: A Cure for Hardening of the Categories,” will appear in the Weidner Law Journal’s July 2008 issue.
Koenig’s article argues that the twenty-first century requires groundbreaking legal solutions to help solve the growing problems of globalized supply chains, international human rights violations, online oppression, environmental degradation and negligent enablement of third party crimes. Lack of legal evolution has led to a considerable build-up of gaps in the law, or legal lag, and punitive damages have become increasingly significant in the legal system as a way to fill these gaps. In his paper, Koenig uses the recent Blackwater USA litigation and the Chinese import safety crisis to illustrate the crimtort’s utility as a flexible response to social problems that threaten society but cannot be addressed on the criminal side of the ledger.
Koenig explores the difference between the manifest and latent functions of crimtorts as civil punishment, drawing upon the work of classic sociological theorists.
“Civil actions simultaneously fulfill the private function of remunerating injured claimants while serving the broader public purpose of controlling socially harmful behavior,” said Koenig. “The manifest functions of crimtorts are punishment and deterrence, but crimtort remedies also arm ordinary citizens with the power to return society to equilibrium through the deterrent power of punitive damages.”
Koenig concludes that crimtorts, or their functional equivalent, are urgently needed in the new millennium because the criminal law, by its very nature, lags behind the other social institutions.
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