The Tort of Throwing: Causation and the Reasonable Corki

This is a really emotionally difficult post for me to write, and I have to start with a hard, personal truth: I lost a game of ranked League of Legends, and it might have been my fault. … 😦

Now that that’s out there, we can use my reprehensible failings at a video game to see how American tort law might view a claim about whose fault it is that my team lost. Corki’s poor positioning matters, but how can we parse out individual responsibility in a complex and interconnected situation?

I. Facts

I’ll keep the facts simple: I was valiantly leading my team to victory with my high-quality Corki play, and after more than 40 minutes of grueling effort and heart-pounding combat, both teams were in a position to win a game after just one convincing teamfight. As my team emerged from blue base toward mid, I expected that red team had just secured a 3rd dragon. A lone enemy appeared from around a corner. I saw an opportunity to pick off one opponent and thus gain a 4v5 advantage on the map, so I engaged. Then I found out that the rest of his team was behind him. I was immediately destroyed, and my team lost the ensuing battle. The game ended in defeat less than a minute later.

II. Bringing Charges

To their credit, my team didn’t rage at me. (Though perhaps this is not to their credit, as it may indicate that they simply failed to understand my error or the role it played in our defeat.) But if they were upset, perhaps they could have charged me with the tort of negligence. Negligence is a civil wrong resulting from a person’s failure to meet a “reasonable” standard of care. Most of the elements of negligence are easy to agree upon in the case of my Corki failure: I owed some kind of duty to my team, which I probably breached, harm or damages occurred (my team lost), and the harm was caused by my breach of my duty. (I’m stipulating that I had a duty just as a function of the idea of the game as a “sport,” which is a subject for another post.)

The most interesting part of accusing Corki of negligence is the question of cause. For all of the criticisms of our legal system as unreasonable, there is a common law requirement that someone be held negligent only if the person’s actions actually caused the harm. In tort law, the basic test for cause is the “but-for” test: “The team would not have lost but for Corki’s irresponsible engagement that got him caught and killed.” Corki’s defense here is to claim that the team may still have lost even if he did not get caught in a bad position: the team may have lost the fight anyway, the game may have continued for 10 more minutes before losing a different teamfight or losing to a split-push, etc. However, it would not be an adequate defense to claim that the rest of the team should have warded, or the rest of the team should have been in a better position, etc.  Those claims (no matter how true!) do not address the question of whether the caught Corki caused the catastrophic collapse of his team’s nexus.

III. Reasonableness (What online gamers are most famous for)

An infamous feature of tort law is the “reasonable person” standard. It is infamous because it expects an uncommonly high standard—it imagines a person who behaves according to textbook, carefully thought-out behaviors, who takes every expert-recommended precaution, every time. The “reasonable Corki” would always maintain proper position, communicate with exactness with his team throughout the game, and would err on the side of caution in every engagement. This is a particularly controversial standard to apply in this case because delicate caution is not always the optimal strategy when playing a competitive sport, dependent on reaction-time and seizing opportunities quickly. Indeed, if Corki went to trial for his negligence, he would call expert witnesses* (professional players, Riot employees and shoutcasters, coaches, analysts, etc.) to testify on the subject of whether Corki’s aggressive positioning was “reasonable.” The plaintiff would call their own expert witnesses who would testify to the contrary. In most tort cases, there is some consensus about how the “reasonable person” would behave because there is some industry or government standard on the subject (even if most people do not abide by that standard, and the standard is presented in a 1950’s short film in which a 13 year old in a collared shirt says “Golly Gee” at least 5 times in 12 minutes).

IV. Verdict: Guilty

Ultimately, it’s likely that Corki’s positioning will be found unreasonable according to the “reasonableness” standard in tort law, if only because it wasn’t the safest positioning.  However, remember all those claims about what Corki’s team could have done to prevent the loss?  Those claims might satisfy the possibility of contributory negligence, in which a harm may be found to have multiple causes and multiple defendants. Not all jurisdictions accept the doctrine of contributory negligence, but those that do may ascribe percentages of responsibility to multiple defendants, and make each pay according to their decided contribution to the harm. There is also the possibility of an argument for using the “substantial factor test” to determine cause in a complex system such as a game of League. (For this test, Corki would argue that the entire team’s actions combined an co-mingled to bring about the loss.).

*I imagine some testimony would look like this…

C9Sneaky: You have to be aggressive, especially if you’re the one with all the kills on your team. You have to carry, and if you’re the only one who can burst someone down quickly, you have to take that opportunity and your team needs to back you up. A fed Corki has a lot of burst, so you need to use that.
CrsCop: The ADC should be way back, stay safe, and just poke and kite back. Your job is to just stay safe and provide support, and let the team engage and fight.

CLGDoublelift: You just lost because you’re trash. Corki should never get caught. He’s so easy to play. Your positioning doesn’t even matter. If you can’t outplay while ahead, you deserve to lose.

Doublelift would not be a helpful expert witness.

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One response to “The Tort of Throwing: Causation and the Reasonable Corki

  1. In Palsgraf, Cardozo said something like: “plaintiff did not owe a duty to the world… and that the harm to plaintiff has to be foreseeable as a result of defendants actions.”

    A court would probably hold that getting ganked by the whole other team while attempting to 1v1 was not foreseeable. If the triar of fact did not buy that and ruled that the reasonably prudent basement dweller should L2P then plaintiff should be pissed off at his teammates for QQing and should cause an: 1) intentional 2) harmful or offensive touching of the plaintiff 3) in the balls.

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