Harvard International Law Journal Online
This article explores two unique aspects of the Chinese Tort Liability Law (TLL): (1) Article 24 holds that a party not at fault shall share the loss with the victim in non-strict liability cases under undefined circumstances, and (2) the government often shields a party at fault from liability in mass tort cases by disregarding the TLL entirely. These two aspects may seem contradictory; however, they are both based on the same principle of socialized liability, which is first articulated in this article.
Scholars often claim that Article 24 embodies the principle of equitable liability. This article challenges such claims and asserts that Article 24 is, in fact, inequitable because it allows a party not at fault to be held liable. Article 24 defies the traditional notion that liability should not only be based on fault, but also proportional to fault. Thus, it failed to provide a clear standard of care that individuals and entities can follow to avoid liability.
This article argues that the principle of socialized liability is helpful in discerning the essence of Article 24 and other related provisions in the TLL. The new principle explains why Chinese lawmakers and courts are willing to deviate from fault-based liability, the bedrock of Western tort law. Through the lens of socialized liability, this article analyzes leading tort cases that have invoked Article 24 and related provisions, as well as several incidents where the government has deliberately disregarded the TLL. This analysis reveals that the socialized liability principle aligns well with the broader goals the Chinese government intends to achieve, in particular, maintenance of social stability and promotion of state economic interests. Either imposing liability on a party not at fault, or shielding an at-fault party from liability serves the same purpose—maintaining social stability, which is at core of the socialized liability principle.
Chenglin Liu, Socialized Liability in Chinese Tort Law, 59 Harv. Int'l L. J. Online 16 (2018).