How should the law deal with the end of the world?
a tiny black hole, which could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.”
Yikes! And so there is a lawsuit seeking to enjoin use of the accelerator, at least until an environmental impact study (!) is completed. And with that, the fate of the universe suddenly rests in the hands of lawyers and judges. It sounds like a bad script that tries to marry Armageddon with Law and Order:
“Will beautiful attorney Lisa and her trusty paralegal sidekick Jake get the papers filed in time? Will cranky judge Hornblatt grant the TRO that saves the world? Find out next Friday, right after the series premiere of Survivor: Law School Edition.”
And how exactly does the law analyze these sorts of claims, anyway? It strikes me that law is not particularly well-equipped to handle claims of infinite destruction. For instance:
-When can a party get a TRO to prevent an act that would cause the end of the universe?
Well, they’ve got to show irreparable harm. Presumably, the end of the universe is always irreparable harm.
-When does a company have to disclose the possibility of the end of the universe in its filings?
Well, if it’s future or speculative information, we apply Basic v. Levinson‘s probability/magnitude test. The probability may be small, even infinitessimal. But the magnitude of the potential harm? Infinite. I guess you always disclose it.
(10-K’s everywhere will now include the line, “There is a very, very, very small chance that something the Board does will inadvertently cause the end of the universe.”)
-And how would a court apply the Hand formula, for instance, in assessing whether a party should have taken better precautions to prevent the universe from being destroyed?
Burden = Probability x Loss.
P may be low, but L is really, really high. Does this mean that parties always have a burden to take reasonable steps to prevent the end of the universe?
But then, law typically gives damages, which are backward-looking. And if the universe has been destroyed . . . well, good luck finding a court in which to bring your claim.
Plus, all your evidence is probably destroyed.
(Image source: Wikicommons)