The Increasing Intersection of Criminal Law and Tort Law
A significant topic for at least the next decade will be the interesection of criminal law, tort law and civil law (including the law on punitive damages). The issue is growing in prominence for many reasons, including new UK legislation on corporate manslaugher and U.S. Senate hearings held a couple of years ago on possible new criminal law legislation in the US for product liability claims. The topic will be covered here in more detail in future articles.
For now, however, a recent news article makes the general point as it describes the manslaughter indictment of a Connecticut area swimming pool contractor (that is, a seller of a service and a seller of component products) for a child’s drowning death said to arise from failure to install a mandatory drain cover.
Is the indictment fair or “right?” Various people can and will argue a range of positions on that topic. One interesting and arguably well-informed view is set out in the the May 1, 2008 American Lawyer interview of Robert Bennett. Mr. Bennett, of Skadden Arps, was interviewed in connection with his autobiographical new book about his work as a white-collar defense lawyer, which included working for the Seante Ethics Commitee in prosecuting the Keating 5 and defending numerous cases for corporate America. Bennett expressed the view that indeed criminal law sanctions can and do change corporate behavior. He is quoted as having said:
R: You write that you are shocked by the rise in white-collar prosecutions. Why do you think it’s happening? Are corporations more corrupt? Have prosecutors gotten bolder?
B: I don’t think that companies have gotten more corrupt. I think it’s more the approach taken by law enforcement. Years ago, when I was a federal prosecutor, a lot of these corporate issues were handled by regulatory agencies. Now, law enforcement is trying to reform how business is done. There is probably less corruption today because of the government’s aggressive approach. [Corporate executives] know it’s not just a matter of paying fines anymore.