The Role of Law in Determining Acceptability of Risk

  • Harold P. Green
Part of the General Motors Research Laboratories book series (RLSS)

Abstract

Legal criteria and procedures for determining societal acceptability of risk are established by governmental institutions performing legislative (i. e., deliberate formulation of rules with prospective application) and/or judicial (i. e., resolution of conflict on a case-by-case basis) functions. In both cases the law-making process reflects both the subjective preferences of the human beings who administer these institutions and their sense of societal attitudes.

Laws, once formulated, are in no sense immutable. The words used in formulation of the laws are inexorably subject to interpretation, and interpretation necessarily reflects ethical, cultural, and political considerations. Moreover, the laws — whether made by legislature, court, or administrative agency — are always subject to override by political effort culminating in legislative action. Thus courts and administrative bodies are constrained in deciding “how safe is safe enough” by their sense of what the body politic desires or will tolerate.

It is futile to expect that societal determinations as to acceptability of risk can be made in an entirely rational, objective manner that will reflect a “correct” balancing of benefits and risks. Indeed, societal “acceptability” is an ephemeral thing that frequently changes from day-to-day. The most for which we can hope is that law provides procedures through which decision-makers will have access to all relevant data — hard as well as soft — so that they can perform their assigned function of making determinations that reflect their sense of what their constituency wants.

Keywords

Obesity Pier Heroin Milton Flammability 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harold P. Green
    • 1
  1. 1.The George Washington UniversityWashington, D.C.USA

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