Unlawfulness in Western European Tort Law
Martín García-Ripoll
University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain.
DOI: 10.4236/oalib.1101605   PDF   HTML   XML   1,186 Downloads   2,390 Views   Citations


In the wake of the German Civil Code (BGB), the codes of different countries of Western Europe include an apparently distorting requisite for an action in tort, which is the unlawfulness. This paper aims to clarify its original meaning and the possibilities of accepting it in jurisdictions where its law does not require expressly that element, including those of Common Law. Before moving directly into the problem, a clarification seems necessary for Common Law scholars, for this paper is focused on a scientific European issue. In Common Law, it is debatable whether there is a general tort law or different torts, but no matter the opinion of the different authors is , each tort is supposed to have its own requisites. In contrast, in Continental Law, the trend is to establish common requisites for all torts (although it is distinguished between “normal” and strict liability), and to insert subsequently nuances when dealing with special group of cases. This paper deals with one of these general elements of an action in tort in some codified systems: the unlawfulness, but without rejecting its usefulness in Common Law jurisdictions.

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García-Ripoll, M. (2015) Unlawfulness in Western European Tort Law. Open Access Library Journal, 2, 1-18. doi: 10.4236/oalib.1101605.

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The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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[28] Thus, B. Windscheid, during the Discussion of the Erste Kommission of the German Civil Code, Proposed without Success the Removal of the Requisite of the Unlawfulness. See Jakobs, H. and Schubert, W. (1983) Die Beratung des Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuchs in systematischer Zusammenstellung der unveröffentlichen Quellen. Recht der Schuldverhältnisse. III, de Gruyter, Berlin, §§ 823 and 826, p. 873.
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[31] (1900) Lehrbuch des Deutschen Strafrechts. 10th Edition, Guttentag, Berlin. He Defined Crime as “Faulty Unlawful (rechtswidrig) act”.
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[34] Although It Is a Fairly Widely Debated Topic. Some Think That the Explanation Is the Desire to Embrace the So-Called Grounds of Justification. See, among Many, Fraenkel, M. (1979) Tatbestand und Zurechnung bei § 823 Abs. 1 BGB, 71 ff., Putting Forward That, Although the BGB Drafters Did Not Pay Much Attention to the Topic, for It Was Considered Something Natural, in the Motive zum Vorentwurf eines BGB It Can Be Read That Damage Has to Be Compensated “Except When It Is Made an Exception in a Certain Case Because of Special Reasons” (p. 4); These Exceptions Were the So-Called Grounds of Justification (p. 13) (see Fraenkel, 100).
[35] von Bar, Ch. and Clive, E. (2009) Principles, Definitions and Model Rules of European Private Law. Draft of Common Frame of Reference. Vol. 4, Sellier, München, 3093.
[36] Koziol, H. (2010) Grundfragen des Schadenersatzrechts. Sramek, Wien, para 6/3, 172.
[37] Authors Use Here a Different Terminology, Distinguishing between Objective (Result) and Subjective (Conduct) Unlawfulness. The Former Is Maintained e.g. by Honsell, H. (2005) Schweizerisches Haftpflichtrecht. 4th edition, § 5, ns. 1 ff., Who Deems Damage Always Unlawful except When There Is a Ground of Justification; the Same Point of View Is Shared by Oftinger, K. and Stark, E. (1995) Schweizerisches Haftpflichtrecht. Vol. I, 5th Edition, § 4, n. 9, and Werro, F. (2005) La responsabilité civile. ns. 291 y 326. The Opposite Opinion Is Defended by Schwenzer, I. (2003) Schweizerisches Obligationenrecht. Allgemeiner Teil. 3rd Edition, para 50.04, p. 305, with the Arguments That It Has the Advantage That Protects Not Only Property Rights But Purely Economic Damages As Well, and That It Makes It Possible to Establish a Limit to Liability through the Introduction of Determined Duties of Care; More or Less the Same, Brehm, R. (1998) Berner Kommentar zum schweizerischen Privatrecht. Das Obligationenrecht. Vol. VI, 1; 3, 1, 2nd Edition, art 41, n. 33, p. 18 f.; Widmer, P. (1998) Function and Relevance under Swiss Law. In Koziol, H., Unification of Tort Law: Wrongfulness, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 116, Appealing As Well to the Semantic Structure of art 41 Or in Comparison with the Italian Civil Code; Stöckli, H. (2007) Notizen zur Widerrechtlichkeit. In Niggli, M.A., Hurtado, J. and Queloz, N., Eds., Festschrift für Franz Riklin, 227 ff., Arguing That the Problem of the Purely Economic Damages Does Not Force to Accept an Objective Conception of Unlawfulness. Hesitant, Schnyder, A.K. (2003) Basler Kommentar zum Schweizerischen Privatrecht. Obligationenrecht. I, 3rd Edition, art 41, ns. 30 ff., pp. 329 f.
[38] Kortmann, C.N.J. (2006) Onrechtmatige overheidsbesluiten. Kluwer, Deventer, 22. That Was As Well the Intention of the Drafters of the Book of Obligations, Who Wrote That “In the Draft, as in the Existing Dutch Code Adopted in 1838 Wrongfulness Is Considered a Qualification of the Conduct”; see (1977) The Netherlands Civil Code. Book 6, The Law of Obligations, Draft Text and Commentary. At 6.3.1, p. 378.
[39] Asser, C., et al. (2002) Goederenrecht. Zakelijkerecht. 14th Edition, Kluwer, Deventer, 37 f. In the Same Sense, Jansen, C.H.M. (2009) Onrechtmatige daad: Algemene bepalingen. 2nd Edition, Kluwer, n. 12, p. 23; Schut, G.H.A. (1997) Onrechtmatige daad. Kluwer, Deventer, 58; van Workum, P. and Arets, L. (2007) Arrestenbundel HBO Rechten, Kluwer, at NJ 1996, 403, p. 788. Hesitant and Critical, Spier, J. (1998) Wrongfulness in the Dutch Context. In Koziol, H., Unification of Tort Law: Wrongfulness, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 87 ff.
[40] That Is Corroborated When Reading Antunes Varela, J. (1971) Rasgos innovadores del Código civil portugués de 1966 en materia de responsabilidad civil, Madrid, 32-35. João de Matos Antunes Varela (1919-2005) Was Minister of Justice from 1954 until 1967 and the Main Promoter of the New Portuguese Civil Code, Taking an Active Part in the Code Draft. Still in Favour of the Unlawfulness of Result, de Almeida Costa, M.J. (2001) Direito das Obrigaçoes, 9th Edition, 513 ff.
[41] Teles de Menezes Leitao, L.M. (2000) Direito das Obrigaçoes. I, Almedina, Coimbra, 257 ff.
[42] In It, It Is Literally Said That with the Unlawfulness of the Damage “It Is Made Clearer than in the Norm of the Civil Code of 1865 That Fault and Unlawfulness Are Different Concepts; and, Therefore, It Is Demanded That the Act or the Omission, to be Source of Liability, Must Be Intentional or Negligent, That Is, Imputable, and It Has to Be Carried Out through Damage to Another’s Legal Sphere. It Will Be No Liability When the Damage Is Caused in Self-Defense Because Who Acts in That Case Has the Power to Defend His Own Right against the Aggressor; the Damage Caused in That Situation Cannot Be Qualified as Unlawful. In Other Words, There Is Unlawfulness When You Harm, without Justification, Another’s Sphere”. Quoted Following Alpa, G. (1990) Danno ingiusto e ruolo della colpa. Un profilo storico, Rivista di Diritto Civile, 36-II, 133 ff.
[43] Bianca, C.M. (2012) Diritto civile, 5, 2nd Edition, Giuffrè, Milano, n. 254; Busnelli, F.D. and Commandé, G. (1998) Wrongfulness in the Italian Legal System. In Koziol, H. (1998) Unification of Tort Law: Wrongfulness, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 69 ff.; Inzitari, B. and Piccinini, V. (2009) La responsabilità civile. Casi e materiali, Cedam, Padova, 3 ff. The Change Is above All Based on the Air Accident Suffered by the Football Team Torino on the 4th May 1949 and the Damage Caused to the Club (Supreme Court Decision 4 July 1953 [1953] Foro italiano, I, 1087 ff.); up to That Moment Case Law Required for an Action in Tort Damage on Property Rights. Besides, the Same Club Suffered the Death of One of Its Players in a Car Accident, Which Set off Again the Same Problem (Supreme Court Decision 29 March 1978 [1978] Foro italiano, pp. 833 ff.).
[44] Santos Briz, J. (1963) Derecho de daños. Edersa, Madrid, 24 ff. Supreme Court Decisions of 10 September 1968 (Repertorio de jurisprudencia—hereinafter RJ-4271) and 25 October 1968 (RJ 4796).
[45] Pantaleón, F. (1991) Comentario del art. 1902. In Paz-Ares, C. et al., Eds., Comentario del Código Civil, Vol. II, 1993 ff. The Comment Had as Its Basis the Author’s Ph.D., from 1981, Unpublished, Which, However, on Account of Its Quality Was Soon Circulating among Scholars Interested in Tort Law.
[46] Pantaleón, F. (Note 45), 1993-1995. Following in His Wake, e.g. Asúa, C. (2000) in Puig i Ferriol, Ll. et al., Eds., Manual de Derecho Civil. Vol. II, 3rd Edition, Marcial Pons, Madrid-Barcelona, 477; Reglero Campos, F. (2008) Tratado de Responsabilidad Civil. 4th Edition, Vol. I, Aranzadi, Cizur Menor, 59 ff.; Roca Trias, E. (2011) Derecho de daños, 6th Edition, Tirant lo Blanch, Valencia, 73; Yzquierdo Tolsada, M. (2001) Sistema de responsabilidad civil, contractual y extracontractual. Dykinson, Madrid, 110-113; etc.
[47] See Especially Busto Lago, J.M. (1998), La antijuridicidad del daño resarcible en la responsabilidad civil extracontractual, Tecnos, Madrid, passim, but 175 ff.; Albaladejo, M. (2008) Derecho Civil. II, 13th Edition, Edisofer, Madrid, 923; Bustos Pueche, J.E. (2004) La antijuridicidad, presupuesto de la responsabilidad extracontractual. La Ley, 22 September 2004, 1 ff.; Carrasco, A. (1989) Comentario al art. 1101. In Albaladejo, M., Ed., Comentarios al Código Civil y Compilaciones Forales, Edersa, Madrid, 593, on Contractual Liability; Lacruz, J.L. (1985) Elementos de Derecho Civil. Vol. II, 1.o, 2nd Edition, J.M. Bosch, Barcelona, 502, text and fn. 2; Martín Casals, M. and Solé, J. (2005) Fault under Spanish Law. In Widmer, P., Ed., Unification of Tort Law: Fault, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 227 ff.; Peña López, F. (2013), Comentario al art. 1902. In Bercovitz, Ed., Comentarios al Código Civil, IX, tirant lo blanch, Valencia, 12969-70; Plaza Penadés, J. (2011) Comentario al art. 1902. In Cañizares, A., et al., Código civil comentado, IV, 1457 ff.
[48] Díez-Picazo, L. (2011) Fundamentos de Derecho civil patrimonial. V, Civitas, Madrid, 304.
[49] The Court Repeats Again and Again That “the Respect and Observance of the Administrative Provisions Do Not Exonerate from Liability the One Who Caused Nuisance, and the Administrative Regulations Do Not Change the Liability of Those Who Fulfil Them, When the Security Measures Are Not Really Enough to Avoid Harmful Events”.
[50] This Strict Liability Is a Nonsense, Criticized by Many Scholars, and Usually Even Repelled by Administrative Courts (Especially in Cases of Public Administration’s Medical Liability), Although Not Directly, But Using Other Arguments, Like Lack of Causation by the Defendant, Act of God, etc. The Issue Is Too Complex to Explain Here in a Few Lines. See, in English, González Pacanowska, I. (2010) The Development of Traffic Liability in Spain. In Ernst, W., Ed., The Development of Traffic Liability, Cambridge University Press, 151 ff.; González Pacanowska, I. and García-Ripoll, M. (2012) The Impact of Institutions and Professions in Spain. In Mitchell, P., Ed., The Impact of Institutions and Professions on Legal Development, Series Comparative Studies in the Development of the Law of Torts in Europe, Cambridge University Press (2012), 233 ff.
[51] Münzberg, W. (note 5), 113.
[52] Fleming, J.G. (1998) The Law of Torts. 9th Edition, LBC Information Services, Sydney, 5.
[53] Huhn, W. (2002) The Use and Limits of Syllogistic Reasoning in Briefing Cases. Santa Clara Law Review, 42, 828.
[54] Hermann, D. (1985) Legal Reasoning as Argumentation. Northern Kentucky Law Review, 12, 507.
[55] Alexy, R. (2003) On Balancing and Subsumption. A Structural Comparison. Ratio Juris, 16, 433.
[56] Kolakowsky, Quoted by Bayón Mohino, J.C. (1991) La normatividad del Derecho: Deberes jurídicos y razones para la acción. Centro de Estudios Constitucionales, Madrid, 389, fn. 200.
[57] Fleming, J.G. (note 52), 114; Dobbs, D. (2000) The Law of Torts, West Group, St. Paul, Minnesota, 275. In Spain, with regard to contractual liability, Carrasco, A. (note 47), 594. In Italy, Cian, G. (1996) Antigiuridicità e colpavolezza. Saggio per una teoria dell’illecito civile. 173.
[58] Welzel, H. (1931) Kausalität und Handlung, Zeitschrift für das gesammte Strafrechtswissenschaft, 51, 703 ff. Collected in Welzel, H., Abhandlungen zum Strafrecht und zur Rechtsphilosophie, de Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 1975, 7 ff.; (1969) Das Deutsche Strafrecht. 11th Edition, de Gruyter, Berlin, passim.
[59] Example of Roxin, C. (note 4), § 24, n. 54.
[60] In Tort Law as Much as in Criminal Law, Authors Tend to Speak Simply of “Defenses”, without Any Further Distinction. See, as to Tort Law e.g. Rogers, W.V.H. (2010) Winfield and Jolowicz on Tort. 18th Edition, Sweet & Maxwell, London, para 25-1; McBride N. and Bagshaw, R. (2005) Tort Law. 2nd Edition, Pearson-Longman, London, Devote a Special Chapter in Each Tort to “Lawful Justification or Excuse”, That Is, without Distinguishing Justification and Excuse. A Good Part of Them Even Includes the Contributory Negligence among the Defenses, and, besides, as a Defense inside Negligence. So, Deakin, S., Johnston, A. and Marquesinis, B. (2008), Markesinis and Deakin’s Tort Law. 6th Edition, OUP, Oxford, 892 ff.; Dobbs, D. (note 57), 494 ff.; Lunney, M. and Oliphant, K. (2010) Tort Law. Texts and Materials. 4th Edition, OUP, Oxford, 300 ff.; Weir, T. (2002) Tort Law. OUP, Oxford, 119: “Contributory Negligence Is Unquestionably a Defense”. But, on the One Hand, Contributory Negligence Has Nothing in Common with, Say, Insanity, and, on the Other Hand, Negligence Means per se Unlawfulness. One Thing Is Unlawfulness and Other Liability; in Case of Contributory Negligence, the Negligence of the Tortfeasor Does Not Decrease the Disvalue of the Conduct or State of Mind, But Only the Liability: Münzberg, W. (note 5), 81, fn. 161.
As to Criminal Law, e.g. Asworth, A. (2003) Principles of Criminal Law, OUP, Oxford, 204 ff.; Ormerod, D. (2005). Smith & Hogan Criminal Law. 11th Edition, OUP, Oxford, 296 ff.
Exceptions to What Has Been Exposed Are, as to Tort Law, e.g. Dobbs, D. (note 57), 156 f. As to Criminal Law, W.R. LaFave, W.R. (2003) Criminal Law. 4th Edition, § 9.1, 447 ff.; Although Recognizing That “The Actual or Proposed Defenses in the Present Chapter Are More of a MIXED bag” (450).
[61] van der Merwe, C.G. and du Plessis, J.E. (1994) Introduction to the Law of South Africa, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 291.
[62] Smith & Hogan Criminal Law (Note 60), 329.
[63] The Work of McBride, N. and Bagshaw, R. (note 60), 496 ff., Is a Good Example. The Authors Treat Some Defenses under the Heading “Limits on the Right to Sue”: They Include the defense volenti non fit iniuria, But According to the Civil Procedure Rules for England and Wales That Defense Is a Matter of Substantive Law and That Does Not Bar the Lawsuit from the Beginning, But It Has to Be Settled in the Final Court’s Decision.
[64] In This Country Parents Are Always Held Liable If the Tortfeasor Is under 14, No Matter How Careful They Were; between 14 and 16 Parents Are Liable If They Could Have Avoided the Harm; Otherwise, the Minor Him or Herself Is Liable; That Is to Say: Someone Has to Foot the Bill, Art 6:169 BW. In Contrast, Art 6:165 Sets Out That the Circumstance That the Act Was Done under the Influence of a Mental Disorder It Is Not an Obstacle to Deem the Tortfeasor as Liable.
In France, Art 414-3 CC Lays Out That “Whoever Caused Damage to Another When He Was under a Mental Disorder Is Not Less Subjected to the Obligation of Redressing the Damage”.
[65] The Facts Appear in (1979) Revue trimestrielle de droit civil, 386 f, with a comment of Durry, G.
[66] Dobbs, D. (note 57), § 120, 284 f and § 124, 293. The Same Opinion Is Held by Fleming, J.G. (Note 52), 126; Winfield & Jolowicz (note 60), para 24-16; Lunney, M. and Oliphant, K. (note 60), p. 196.
[67] Pantaleón, F. (1995) Entry “Culpa”. In Montoya, A., ed., Enciclopedia Jurídica Básica, II, 1865. Compare with Art. 6:162 BW.
[68] Lunney, M. and Oliphant (note 60), 2.
[69] See Koziol, H. (1998) Conclusions. In Koziol, H., Unification of Tort Law: Wrongfulness, Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 130. See Also the Seminal Work of Viehweg, T. (1953) Topik und Jurisprudence. C.H. Beck, München.

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