Epstein: BP Doesn't Deserve a Liability Cap

BP Doesn't Deserve a Liability Cap
Richard A. Epstein
The Wall Street Journal
June 16, 2010

Our national frustration continues to rise with each new drop of BP oil that leaks into the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone knows we can't legislate away environmental risks without consigning ourselves to the Stone Age. What's needed going forward is a comprehensive legal strategy that addresses the risks though a combination of regulation before the fact and tort liability (and criminal sanctions where appropriate) afterwards.

Tort remedies are essential to protect people (and their property) who do not have contractual relations with defendants from harms such as air and water pollution. The legal system should never allow self-interested parties to keep for themselves all the gains from dangerous activities that unilaterally impose losses on others—which is why the most devout defender of laissez-faire must insist, not just concede, that tough medicine is needed in these cases. The fundamental question here is one of technique: What mix of before and after sanctions will do the job at the lowest cost?

Richard A. Epstein