California has long been a tort law leader. In the 1963 case of Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, the state broke new ground in imposing strict liability on manufacturers for defective products, an approach that was quickly adopted by the Second Restatement of Torts. Five years later, the state again led the way. In Dillon v. Legg, the California Supreme Court established bystander liability for emotional distress, and, the same year, in Rowland v. Christian, the court abolished the traditional landowner premises liability categories. Indeed, the list of California tort law “firsts” is long and varied, including such heavyweights as Summers v. Tice (1948), which established alternative liability, Tarasoff v. Regents of California (1976), which imposed a “duty to warn” on therapists, and Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories (1980), which established market share liability for the inter-generational harm traceable to DES, a drug marketed to pregnant women, ostensibly to prevent miscarriage.

Notably, while the cases above mostly expand tort liability, the Golden State has been at the vanguard of the opposite, too. It was California that broke new ground in enacting the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975. Applicable to medical malpractice cases, that act, which restricted contingency fees and imposed a $250,000 hard cap on noneconomic damages, started the United States down the path of legislative tort reform—a reform movement that has dramatically altered the tort system’s operation, generosity and capacity—and that is still going strong well into its fourth decade.

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