NewYorkUniversity
LawReview

Issues

Author

Omri Ben-Shahar

Results

Personalizing Negligence Law

Omri Ben-Shahar, Ariel Porat

The most fundamental feature of negligence law is the “reasonable person” standard. This feature bases negligence law on a strictly objective foundation: It requires people to behave in the prudent way that, as Holmes explained, the ordinary, typical member of their community observes. In this Article we argue that with the increasing availability of information about actors’ characteristics, negligence law should give up much of its objectivity by allowing courts to “subjectify” the standard of care—that is, to tailor it to the specific injurer’s tendency to create risks and his or her ability to reduce them. We discuss the effects of this personalization of the standard of care on injurers’ and victims’ incentives to take care, injurers’ activity levels, and the injurers’ ex ante investments in improving their skills. We also discuss justice considerations as well as the feasibility of personalization with the aid of “Big Data.”

Interpreting Contracts via Surveys and Experiments

Omri Ben-Shahar, Lior Jacob Strahilevitz

Interpreting the language of contracts may be the most common and least satisfactory task courts perform in contract disputes. This Article proposes to take much of this task out of the hands of lawyers and judges, entrusting it instead to the public. The Article develops and tests a novel regime—the “survey interpretation method”—in which interpretation disputes are resolved through large surveys of representative respondents, by choosing the meaning that a majority supports. This Article demonstrates the rich potential for this method to examine variations of contractual language that could have made an intended meaning clearer. A similar survey regime has been applied successfully in trademark and unfair competition law for decades to interpret precontractual messages, and this Article shows how it could be extended to interpret contractual texts. The Article focuses on the interpretation of consumer contracts as the primary application of the proposed method, but demonstrates how the method could also apply to contracts between sophisticated parties. To demonstrate the technique, this Article applies the survey interpretation method to five real cases in which courts struggled to interpret contracts. It then provides normative, pragmatic, and doctrinal support for the proposed regime.