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Laws Would Legalize Driving Into Protestors

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Laws Would Legalize Driving Into Protestors - An Alternative Immunity For Striking Protestors Updates Older Legal Doctrine

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 22, 2021) - Bills are being considered in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, and about a dozen other states to deal with the increasingly common tactic of protestors who deliberately and illegally stand or sit on streets and highways to block traffic, including measures to legally permit drivers to run into them.

Indeed, a bill granting drivers immunity for hitting protestors recently cleared an Oklahoma Senate committee on a 8-1 vote.

Such measures appear to be a modern version of the old legal doctrine of "outlawry," according to public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who suggests that there is a better and more humane way to deal with the problem.

Under early Roman law, and throughout the Middle ages under German law and the common law of England, a person found guilty of certain wrongdoings was declared an "outlaw" - literally a person "outside the law," and no more entitled to any legal protection than a wolf - so it was not only completely lawful but considered meritorious for others to kill him.

Granting legal immunity to drivers who run down protestors illegally blocking a street or highway seems to be an updated version of the concept; i.e., that a person who intentionally and criminally blocks a road for the purpose of inconveniencing others surrenders the legal protections to which he would otherwise be entitled.

Those proposing and supporting such legislation argue that existing laws which prohibit deliberately blocking traffic obviously are not preventing the increasing use of this frustrating and illegal tactic, apparently because police often tolerate such conduct, or at least decline to make arrests.

Moreover, suggests Banzhaf, prosecutors often refuse to prosecute, or let the criminals off with only a small fine and/or probation - all of which do little to deter such illegal conduct.

But legislation which would make it easier for anyone who is delayed by a road blockage to sue the offenders, and to hold each person who participated liable for the entirety of the damages from all drivers, under the existing legal doctrine known as "joint and several liability," would probably be far more effective as well as more humane.

Actually, says Banzhaf, such civil legal actions can be brought under existing law, since deliberately blocking cars on a road - so that drivers cannot then readily leave them - constitutes the civil tort of "false imprisonment."

Indeed, this constitutes a so-called intentional tort, for which the plaintiff can be awarded punitive damages as well as damages for the time he was effectively stuck on the street.

In fact, law suits based upon this concept - inspired by Prof. Banzhaf - are currently pending against those who illegally blocked the George Washington Bridge, thereby effectively imprisoning hundreds in their cars.

But legislation to clarify and codify this cause of action, providing minimum damages (e.g. $1000 for each person falsely imprisoned), and making anyone found liable pay the attorney fees of the plaintiffs, would be preferable, and better than authorizing a "purge" (as in the movie) on our streets and highways, he argues.

If our legislators are going to update the outlawry concept to deal with modern problems, let's limit it to minor property damage rather than risks to life and limb - e.g., providing that a person who parks in a "no standing anytime" lane on a busy street during rush hour cannot sue if irate drivers damage his car - suggests Banzhaf.