Douglas H. Cook


What would one day's worth of tort law look like? We usually receive our doses of the law in measures other than per diem: by the case, by the brief, by the article, or by the treatise. There is, of course, a unity in each of those units; each one collects only those authorities that bear upon certain focused aspects of the law. For example, an appellate brief or a law review article is often a compendium of cases dealing within a narrow topical range, cases drawn from a span of many different days, years, or even decades. One way to view the development of the common-law subjects, then, is to envision various lines or streams of cases, sometimes guided in their courses by statutory tributaries, flowing and joining into wide rivers: contract law, property law-- or tort law. But the law also grows by accretion. Each day, in courts across the nation, another layer is added to the law of torts. In some ways, as a construct, this is the antithesis of how we have learned to view the law. If a casebook is the order of the tort law, with two proximate cause cases from different eras neatly paired, then a single day represents the glorious chaos of tort: an auto accident in Pennsylvania, a products liability suit in Utah, a medical malpractice case in Connecticut. What might a one-day slice of American tort law reveal? I set out to find out. My quest would be artistic, not statistic. To construct the most accurate picture possible of one tort day would require a painstaking assembling of trial court records from thousands of local and county courthouses in all fifty states: a daunting task, and arguably not worth the mileage or postage. A more feasible approach is made possible by the ready availability of computerized searches in legal opinion databases. It is, of course, now possible to search for and compile all court opinions promulgated on a single, specific date, and to narrow the search further to a single area of law. Therefore, using the two best known computerized legal research services, I set out to discover one day's worth of torts opinions, from the first light of dawn in Maine to the last rays on some Pacific coast courthouse.

First Page


Included in

Torts Commons