In his latest Takimag column, Theodore Dalrymple critiques tort law after reading about the legal fallout of a hotel wedding reception that descended into a brawl.
The tort law often has the effect of infantilizing people by encouraging them to deny their own responsibility, trading their status as adults for the hope, in most cases forlorn or delusory, of a large payout. This is not to deny that our tort law does sometimes result in justice for the maltreated, but at tremendous cost both financial and civilizational. The tort law encourages deception (including self-deception), fraud, exaggeration, false witness, and infantilization. It legalizes corruption, insofar as cases of no merit nevertheless often result in payouts for the plaintiffs because it is more expensive for defendants with right on their side to contest the case to the bitter end. It is often responsible for more injury to the plaintiff than the original injury that caused the plaintiff to resort to it in the first place.
In English legal parlance, denial will usually involve refutation, that is, advancing a positive case although the word “refutation” is rarely used in this context. The distinction between a passive and active responses to a claim is usually signified by not admitting as distinct from denying it, though such language would be unlikely outside formal statements of case. I suspect the wording of the hotel’s response was on the advice of its lawyers and I doubt it carries the implications TD seeks to draw from it.
Of course, it is a matter of pure speculation that the claim would be settled in the manner suggested. This would probably be down to the hotel’s insurers rather than the hotel, but I see no reason why a robust defence couldn’t be raised to the claim — the law of tort is not quite as silly as TD suggests. Just because a claim is threatened doesn’t mean it will be brought, let alone succeed, and not every try-on results in payment for the simple reason that this would encourage other frivolous claims.
The piece contains some interesting general observations, but in certain respects it’s rather wide of the mark.