Jurigenic Harm

Jurigenic harm is a concept that bears careful thought and resonates with many judges, attorneys and observers of the judicial and adversary process. In medicine an inadvertent harm (including death and injury) caused by medical care or intervention is termed an “iatrogenic effect.” I have heard it called the “medical mischief” in morbidity and mortality conferences in hospitals!  Such harms are generally avoidable and attributed to a flaw in the system and not simply the result of human error. There has been widespread media and academic discussion over the years about iatrogenic effects. Unlike medicine where much has been written (i.e. Dr. Lucian Leapehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucian_Leape), there has been very little or no discussion of the inadvertent harms caused by the justice system which result in death or injury. Talk about denial and minimization in a system!  It should not be left to the tort lawyers or media to sort out avoidable errors in my view.  The unfortunate failure to chronicle and correct such errors has only recently been addressed.  I have addressed this in several articles and here is one. http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/28816.pdf

Some years ago I coined the term “jurigenic effect” to include those unanticipated harms caused by the justice system. Such harms might include the granting of child custody to a violent caretaker in a divorce case thereby endangering the children; allowing excessive attorneys fees in a small divorce case virtually bankrupting the parties; or requiring child victims to undergo multiple interviews and hearings in child protective cases resulting in repeated emotional trauma for the children. While these harms may be well meaning and unintended, they are the result of system failings.  To me  they are every bit as real as any anticipated consequences and must be recognized and candidly discussed.  The topic of jurigenic effects is ripe for greater legal scholarship. Certainly the media and some legislative forums have addressed and documented these systemic failings over the years.  We are quite adept at assessing blame and responsibility while assigning accountability,  except when it is our “bacon” in the fire!

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