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Center for Law and the Public’s Health


Benning v. Vermont
In 1989, Benning was charged with violating a Vermont statute requiring helmet use by motorcycle riders. Although the charge was dismissed, he sued to have the statute deemed unconstitutional. Plaintiffs argued that the freedom to choose whether to wear a helmet constituted one of the "natural, inherent, and inalienable rights" guaranteed by the state constitution. In this case the court discusses the relationship between individual freedom and government actions to ensure safety.

  School Board of Nassau County, Florida v. Arline
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits federally funded programs from discriminating against an individual solely based on his handicap. In 1979, a Florida teacher was fired after her third relapse of tuberculosis in two years. She sued, claiming that her illness constituted a handicap and that her dismissal violated the Act. Should the contagious effects of a disease be considered a handicap?

  United States v. Ottati & Goss, Inc.
The EPA brought this suit against several companies, demanding that they clean up a superfund site in New Hampshire. After 10 years of litigation and tens of thousands of pages of evidence, the case reached the Supreme Court. The case is multifaceted and involves a wide array of issues. Perhaps most salient among them are the difficulties that accompany the assessment of risk. In his opinion, Justice Breyer, who has devoted considerable scholarly attention to this issue, lamented the case’s "mazelike patterns of cross-references among regulations, statutes, and ‘expert jargon.’"


Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American
Petroleum Institute

Pursuant to his authority under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the secretary of OSHA greatly reduced the permissible level of benzene in the workplace. Having found that benzene is linked with leukemia, the secretary promulgated this standard believing it to be "reasonably necessary or appropriate to provide safe or healthful employment and places of employment.” But was such a drastic reduction necessary to ensure workers’ health? Does the Act require workplaces to be risk-free? This case illustrates the problems associated with regulating risks that are difficult to quantify.




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