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Lecture to discuss implicit attitudes in tort law

March 15, 2010

This year's Monsanto Lecture at Valparaiso University School of Law will focus on a 7th Circuit case on transporting toxic liquid and implicit attitudes with regards to tort law.

Professors Jon Hanson, Harvard Law School, and Douglas Kysar, Yale Law School, will use Indiana Harbor Belt R.R. Co. v. American Cyanamid Co., 916 F.2d 1174 (7th Cir. 1990), in their March 19 lecture "Abnormally Dangerous: Inequality Dissonance and the Making of Tort Law." In Indiana Harbor, authored by Judge Richard Posner, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a shipper of a hazardous chemical is held to a negligence standard for the consequences of a spill during a shipment, and that strict liability is only imposed when the high degree of risk associated with the activity can't be eliminated through due care.

The professors will examine what might explain why courts sometimes prefer a negligence standard when their logic could easily have led them to a strict liability alternative by using behavioral science.

There is growing evidence that the reasons people give for their behavior and decisions are rarely causal and are often confabulatory. The field of social cognition, for instance, has demonstrated through countless experiments that "implicit attitudes" and "implicit motives," which lie outside the purview of introspection, play a far more significant role in shaping our attitudes, ideologies, and behavior than most people realize or care to acknowledge.

The professors will discuss whether an understanding of those implicit processes might help explain why the Circuit Court held that the activity of transporting highly toxic and flammable chemicals through residential areas wasn't abnormally dangerous and thus not subject to strict liability.

The lecture begins at 4 p.m. CDT in Wesemann Hall, 656 S. Greenwich St. It is free and open to the public and one unit of CLE credit will be offered. A form will be available for self-reporting.

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