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Zittrain Torts Playlist Spring 2013

II. Assault and Battery: Intent and Autonomy

In the absence of statutes that clearly delineate acceptable from unacceptable behavior – that’s the realm of criminal law, and still plenty complicated – tort law often requires a court to draw boundaries on the fly as individual cases come up. Here we look at a cluster of problems arising generally from situations in which society might say the wrongness of an act may be minimal or entirely lacking – yet a victim steps forward to earnestly claim that his or her wishes about bodily integrity have been disrespected. The rough and tumble of daily life – “the implied license of the playground” – allows some license for those who offend with physical contact, including against the especially sensitive. When does that license end, particularly if a plaintiff’s special sensitivities are known to a defendant? Are there any larger principles at work to help us resolve conflicts in this zone, or that at least capture the instincts that might find themselves in opposition?

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