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Soviet Tort Law and the Development of Public Policy

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In spite of profound differences between the Soviet social system and Western systems, many of the details of Soviet tort law would appear quite reasonable to the Western lawyer. In both cases, tort law is essentially a mechanism for the settlement of private law disputes which has some public law aspects (for instance, the problem of governmental tort liability). And over the years in both the Soviet Union and the West, tort law has attracted considerable attention from those involved in the discussion and formulation of public policy. The policy objectives sought in the two systems differ in some important ways, but the fact that tort law can be seen in both as a vehicle for achieving policy ends is an interesting parallel in itself. The law of torts might be considered politically neutral in nature, since it is based on rather technical legal rules and applies largely to private parties. But some of the major political trends in Soviet history have been reflected in the developments of Soviet tort law, and some of the provisions on tort articulate principles rooted in the political values of the system. This paper will examine several aspects of Soviet tort law which, over the years, have had important public policy implications. These will include liability based on fault, strict liability, the liability of governmental organs, compensation for work-connected injuries, and a provision which allows the court to consider the economic situation of the defendant in assessing damages. These matters comprise only a relatively small portion of the total statutory law devoted to torts,1 so the analysis will be introduced by a general review of the major principles of Soviet tort law. In the third section of the article, the role of Soviet courts in fashioning tort law will be discussed. The final section will be devoted to an analysis of several policy problems connected with tort law presently being debated.

Affiliations: 1: Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


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