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In Robins Dry Dock and Repair Co. v. Flint, the Supreme Court laid down the general proposition that claims for pure economic loss are not recoverable in tort. Although courts have sometimes ignored or distinguished Robins, its holding is still a central feature of tort law. In a recent en bane decision regarding claims by those injured by a chemical spill in the Mississippi River, the Fifth Circuit engaged in an extensive debate over the continued vitality of Robins and concluded (despite five dissenters) that it remained good law.

The Robins rule is overbroad, lumping together a number of very different problems. Many of the claims barred by the economic loss doctrine are easily distinguishable from Robins. Of course the Robins rule need not give the wrong result in other cases of economic loss, but the doctrine gives no guidance as to why liability should be denied and fails to identify cases in which denial of recovery for economic losses is the wrong outcome.



© 1991 The University of Chicago. Originally published in the Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 20, p. 249, 1991.