2020 Annual Health Law Conference

Public Health Litigation: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Call for Papers

Since the tobacco litigation of the 1990s, academics and public health advocates have viewed litigation as an important affirmative public health tool. As the tobacco litigation demonstrated, litigation can help focus attention on a public health problem, unearth critical information through discovery, and help to change the political dynamics regarding regulation. Ideally, litigation can also help change industry practices to be less harmful to public health, and provide substantial funding intended to aid public health efforts. In the years since the Master Settlement Agreement to the multi-state tobacco litigation was reached in 1998, public health advocates, as well as states and municipalities, have sued gun manufacturers, fast food restaurants, e-cigarette companies, and the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids, all with an eye to improving public health.

Despite its promise as a public health tool, affirmative public health litigation faces numerous obstacles and critiques. These include federal and state preemption, limitations on class actions, and the very real question as to whether litigation can actually achieve effective public health changes. Critics also argue that courts lack the capacity to understand complex public health issues, that the tort system should aim to compensate injured parties rather than achieve social change, and that affirmative public health litigation is inherently anti-democratic. Other critics argue that the interests of tort laws are frequently in conflict with those of the public.

In conjunction with its 2020 Annual Health Law Conference, and in celebration of the career of Professor Richard A. Daynard, who is widely known for his pioneering work on public health litigation and tobacco control, the Center for Health Policy and Law seeks abstracts for papers discussing one or more of the myriad issues raised by affirmative public health litigation. Papers may look at the efficacy of such litigation (in one or more domains), the barriers such litigation face, critiques of such litigation, and/or possible reforms.

The authors of the selected abstracts will present their papers at the conference on Friday, April 17, 2020.  The center will cover travel and accommodations for selected authors. Authors will also be invited to contribute their papers to an issue of the Northeastern University Law Review (20,000 words, including footnotes and bibliography). Final papers will be due in late May 2020.


Abstracts (maximum 250 words) will be accepted until November 8, 2019.
Please send to lawhealth@northeastern.edu with “2020 Call for Papers” in the subject line.
Decisions are anticipated around December 6, 2019.

Early expressions of interest and/or full paper submissions are welcome.

Contact: Jennifer Huer, j.huer@northeastern.edu