July 20, 2012

Judicial Use of the Phrase "The Perfect Storm"

Carol McCrehan Parker, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Law, has published The Perfect Storm, the Perfect Culprit: How a Metaphor of Fate Figures In Judicial Opinions, at 43 McGeorge Law Review 323 (2012). Here is the abstract.

After the publication of a book and release of a movie, both titled “The Perfect Storm,” the phrase, “it was a perfect storm,” entered the popular culture in apparently limitless contexts, including at least 140 judicial opinions. Apparently even by those who have never read the book or seen the movie, a reference to “a perfect storm” is understood to embody the story of a fishing boat lost in a terrible storm, in which multiple forces converged in a singular event to produce devastating consequences which could not have been foreseen or prevented. Nothing could have been done to prevent the damage, and no one is to blame.

This article discusses the construction of the perfect storm metaphor and examines how its narrative elements figure in judicial opinions. By emphasizing the convergence of forces, the metaphor promotes a view of multiple causation as “perfect” and separate from human agency. By emphasizing the singular quality of the storm, the metaphor invites arguments urging a highly contextualized reading and suggesting that since a perfect storm is unlikely to recur, any precedential effect of the case so described will be minimal. By conjuring up the awesome and mysterious forces of nature, the metaphor may work to absolve individuals of responsibility for the consequences of their own actions. In short, the perfect storm is the perfect culprit.

Download the article from SSRN at the link. 

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