The 2024 Tort Law and Social Equality Project Speaker Series will feature monthly presentations from scholars around the world who work on topics situated at the intersection of torts and social justice. Its aim is to foster debate and dialogue within the academic community focused on these topics and cultivate social justice tort theory as a distinctive field of inquiry.

Presentations will be hosted virtually by the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and be open to the public. They will last about 45 minutes and will be followed by a 45-minute Q&A period. Sessions will be recorded and made available for subsequent online viewing. Attendees are not expected to pre-read prescribed materials.

A full list of presenters and presentation topics, as well as Zoom links, can be found below.

2024 Winter

Martha Chamallas

January 19, 2024, 12:00 p.m. EST

Zoom link:

“Trauma Damages”

This paper examines the concept of trauma as it relates to tort recoveries, featuring three contemporary contexts: rape trauma, racial trauma, and birth trauma. It explains why many trauma victims are unable to qualify for a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, even though they experience many symptoms of PTSD. It explores the obstacles to recovery for victims of chronic racism and obstetric violence and calls for a recommitment to the “eggshell plaintiff” rule and dismantling of artificial distinctions between physical and emotional harm to respond to the intensified injuries suffered by marginalized persons in underserved communities marked by violence, injustice, poverty and deprivation.


Martha Chamallas is a Distinguished University Professor and the Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law Emerita at the Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University. She is the author of The Measure of Injury: Race, Gender and Tort Law (with Jennifer B. Wriggins) (NYU Press 2010), Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Tort Opinions (with Lucinda M. Finley) (Cambridge U. Press 2020) and numerous articles exploring such topics as the devaluation of emotional harm, bias in the computation of damages and the underutilization of tort law for harms stemming from sexual discrimination and abuse.

Her most recent articles propose a negligence framework for redressing rape and articulate the contours of social justice tort theory. She is the 2022 winner of the William L. Prosser Award for her pioneering work on gender and race in tort law. She currently teaches torts at Fordham Law School.



Sandra Sperino

February 16, 2024, 1:00 p.m. EST

Zoom link:

“The Causation Canon”

It is rare to witness the birth of a canon of statutory interpretation. In the past decade, the Supreme Court created a new canon—the causation canon. When a statute uses any causal language, the Court will assume that Congress meant to require the plaintiff to establish “but for” cause.

This Article is the first to name, recognize and discuss this new canon. The Article traces the birth of the canon, showing that the canon did not exist until 2013 and was not certain until 2020. Demonstrating how the Court constructed this new canon yields several new insights about statutory interpretation.

The Supreme Court claimed the new causation canon represents “ancient” and “long-held” principles of common law. The Supreme Court’s claims about the causation canon are easily disprovable with only a cursory review of Supreme Court cases from the past 40 years. This is not a case of a contested or difficult historic record.

With the causation canon the Court did not simply apply the common law to statutes. Instead, it created its own new federal causation standard that is not consistent with any state’s common law or even the Restatement of Torts. The Court significantly changed the common law and then magnified the significance of the change by imposing it as a default statutory interpretation canon that will apply across both federal civil and criminal statutes.

This new canon represents a significant change in the way the Supreme Court has used the common law, and it does not fit comfortably within claims made about textualism generally or substantive canons specifically. Creating a new federal common law of factual cause and imposing that newly created law as a default standard significantly raises the profile of this area of statutory interpretation and demands greater scholarly inquiry.


Sandra F. Sperino is the Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and the Elwood L. Thomas Missouri Endowed Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. Her scholarship focuses on how courts and other actors resolve employment law disputes.

Professor Sperino is the author of two treatises in employment discrimination law: McDonnell Douglas: The Most Important Case in Discrimination Law (Bloomberg 2018) (a treatise focusing on the case and its progeny) and The Law of Federal Employment Discrimination (West 2019). Her book, Unequal: How America’s Courts Undermine Discrimination Law (w/ Thomas) (Oxford 2017), was recognized with the 2021 Civil Justice Scholarship Award from the Pound Civil Justice Institute. Her recent articles are published in the Michigan Law Review, the University of Illinois Law Review, the Alabama Law Review and the Notre Dame Law Review, among others. Her article, “The Tort Label,” was selected for the Harvard/Stanford/Yale Faculty Forum.

Prior to joining the Mizzou law faculty, Professor Sperino was the Judge Joseph P. Kinneary Professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. In 2013, 2017, and 2022, she received the Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching. In 2015, Cincinnati Law recognized her work with the Harold C. Schott Scholarship Award; in 2018 she received the Faculty Excellence Award; and the university recognized her with a Faculty-to-Faculty Research Mentoring Award in 2019.

Professor Sperino’s scholarship has been cited by numerous courts, including the Third Circuit, the Fifth Circuit, the Eleventh Circuit, federal district courts, and the Supreme Courts of Iowa, Oregon, and Hawaii. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, on NPR, and in other media outlets. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute.

In 2013 and again in 2019, she served as lead counsel on amicus briefs filed in the United States Supreme Court in cases considering the correct causal standard for federal discrimination/retaliation law. Prior to entering academia, Professor Sperino was a law clerk in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and practiced law in St. Louis at Lewis, Rice. While at Lewis, Rice she co-authored the successful petition for writ of certiorari and the brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Sell. She graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Illinois Law Review.


Sarah L. Swan

March 22, 2024, 12:00 p.m. EST

Zoom link:

“Plaintiff Police”

My project explores the recent trend of local police officers increasingly bringing civil lawsuits against those that they police, particularly in high-profile situations where the police have been accused of wrongdoing. For example, police officers have initiated multiple lawsuits suing Black Lives Matter protestors, police officers have sued rapper Afroman for using footage of their search of his home in a recent music video, and a Louisville police officer who participated in the Breonna Taylor raid sued her boyfriend for shooting at him when they began the raid into the apartment. This project theorizes these suits as democratic harms that degrade the relationship between the citizenry and local governments, considers why existing tools like the fireman’s rule and anti-SLAPP legislation are inadequate responses, and offers an approach that navigates the space between the value of open courts on the one hand, and the importance of robust protest and political participation on the other.


Sarah L. Swan is a Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School (Newark). She teaches and researches in the areas of torts, state and local government law, criminal law, and family law. Her work has been published in the nation’s leading law reviews, including the Harvard Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Duke Law Journal, UCLA Law Review, and the Vanderbilt Law Review, among others. Prior to joining the faculty at Rutgers (Newark), Professor Swan was an Assistant Professor at the Florida State University College of Law. She has also served as an associate-in-law and fellow at Columbia Law School, and previously practiced as a litigation associate for several years, specializing in the areas of insurance and commercial litigation.




Jennifer Koshan & Deanne Sowter 

April 19, 2024, 12:00 p.m. EST

Zoom link:

“The Tort of Family Violence and its Potential to Remediate the Consequences of Abuse”

Torts – even intentional torts – were not traditionally conceived of as a means of redressing intimate partner violence (IPV). Within the last fifty years, Canadian tort law (and related limitations laws) have evolved to allow IPV survivors to seek tort-based remedies. However, these remedies have been sought rarely and have been largely limited to existing categories of intentional torts such as assault, battery, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. These torts do not always encompass the myriad harms sustained by survivors of IPV, particularly the harms of economic abuse and coercive control. In Ahluwalia v Ahluwalia, a 2022 family law decision, Justice Renu Mandhane responded to this gap in the law by recognizing a new tort of family violence, but her decision was overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2023. Our presentation will provide an intersectional feminist analysis of the role of tort law in providing remedies for survivors of IPV, situating tort remedies within the wider context of Canadian IPV laws as well as tort theory and critiques. This wider context raises issues about access to justice and socio-economic responses to IPV for members of marginalized groups in particular.

Jennifer Koshan is a Professor in the Faculty of Law and Research Excellence Chair at the University of Calgary. Jennifer’s research and teaching focus on equality and human rights, legal responses to interpersonal violence, and access to justice. With a number of colleagues across the country, she recently completed a project on Domestic Violence and Access to Justice Within and Across Multiple Legal Systems that was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Research from the project includes work published here and here. Jennifer has also been working with colleagues in Nursing and Social Work at the University of Calgary on an interdisciplinary course module on gender-based violence using virtual gaming simulation. She blogs on domestic violence and other issues on, and regularly presents her research to judges, lawyers, and other academic and professional audiences. Jennifer also sits on the National Association of Women and the Law’s Violence Against Women Working Group, and regularly works with the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) on its projects.

Deanne Sowter is a doctoral candidate and Vanier Scholar at Osgoode Hall Law School. She is also a Research Fellow with the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution. Deanne’s research focuses on gender-based violence, family law, and legal ethics, and it has been supported by SSHRC and several prestigious fellowships and scholarships including the Honourable Willard Z Estey Teaching Fellowship and the OBA Foundation Chief Justice of Ontario Fellowship in Legal Ethics and Professionalism Studies.

Deanne’s work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals and it has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada. She has taught as an Instructor at the University of Calgary and as an Adjunct Professor at Western Law. Deanne has a JD from Osgoode Hall Law School, an LLM from the University of Toronto.




Hanoch Dagan & Avihay Dorfman

May 17, 2024, 12:00 p.m. EST

Zoom link:

“The Value of Personal Rights of Action”

In this essay, we claim that contemporary champions of personal rights of action do not explain why and when these rights matter. Moreover, contemporary critics of these rights do not explain why all such rights should be replaced with other alternatives to the traditional system of common-law litigation, such as collective litigation. Our core thesis, by contrast, is that some personal rights of action can be valuable in and of themselves – that is, they carry freestanding value, beyond their contribution to vindicating plaintiffs’ substantive rights. On other cases, personal rights of action are legal technologies that are rightly dispensable with others if these replacements can better ensure the vindication of private plaintiffs’ rights. The key question, therefore, is not only whether personal rights of action are intrinsically valuable, but rather when. We employ the normative framework of relational justice to address these questions. 

Hanoch Dagan is the founding Director of the Berkeley Center for Private Law Theory. Professor Dagan writes and teaches primarily in the areas of private law theory, contracts, property, and legal theory. Among his many publications are over 120 articles in major law reviews and journals, such as Yale Law Journal, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Columbia Law Review, Michigan Law Review, California Law Review, and more. Dagan is the author of seven books, including Property: Values and Institutions (Oxford University Press, 2011), Reconstructing American Legal Realism & Rethinking Private Law Theory (Oxford University Press, 2013), The Choice Theory of Contracts (with Michael A. Heller) (Cambridge University Press, 2017), and A Liberal Theory of Property (Cambridge University Press, 2021). He edited six book, including Properties of Property (Wolters Kluwer, 2012) (with Gregory S. Alexander) and Research Handbook on Private Law Theory (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020) (with Benjamin Zipursky). Dagan is currently working on a new book: Relational Justice: A Theory of Private Law (forthcoming Oxford University Press, 2024) (with Avihay Dorfman). Before joining Berkeley, Dagan was the Stewart and Judy Colton Professor of Legal Theory and Innovation and the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Tel-Aviv University. He has been a visiting professor at Yale, Columbia, Michigan, Cornell, UCLA, and Toronto, and delivered keynote speeches and endowed lectures in Singapore, Alabama, Toronto, Queensland, Cape Town, Monash, and Oxford.

Dorfman is a professor of law at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law. He works in the theoretical foundations of law. He has written articles on various basic questions in private law theory and doctrine as well as on the morality of public ordering, including research on why privatization may sometimes be impermissible and on what might make political authority legitimate. In each of these studies, Dorfman focuses on the non-instrumental values that underlie key legal and political institutions. In that, his studies elaborate the non-contingent implications of the law for the possibility of establishing forms of valuable interactions between, and among, persons.

His work has appeared in Philosophy & Public Affairs, Columbia Law Review, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, University of Toronto Law Journal, Legal Theory, Law & Philosophy, Theoretical Inquiries in Law, American Journal of Jurisprudence, Modern Law Review, and more. Dorfman is currently working on three different book projects: a tort theory book titled Conflict between Equals: A Vindication of Tort Law; a private law theory book, with Hanoch Dagan, titled Relational Justice: A Theory of Private Law (forthcoming 2025, Oxford UP); and a legal theory book, with Alon Harel, titled Reclaiming the Public (forthcoming 2024, Cambridge UP).

Dorfman is a graduate of Yale Law School (J.S.D.) and Haifa University (LL.B. and B.A. in Economics). He was a law clerk for The Honorable Aharon Barak, the (then) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel and, more recently, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and Cornell Law School.