The PhD Interview: Can one profit from damage?
Arnt Skjefstad has tidied up established truths within tort law, hoping that in the future we can ask the right questions.
Why did you want to get a PhD?
“In my student days there were many of my fellow students who "studied the exam", not the subject, to find out how to get good grades. I was, however, not much of a tactical student. I immersed myself in the subject matter and could out of pure interest read books that were not on the curriculum. I worked as a research assistant while I was studying, and I was lucky enough to be regarded as a full-fledged colleague. After I finished my studies, I worked for three years as a corporate lawyer”.
What happened then?
“Working as a lawyer was demanding, but also very instructive. I enjoyed my job and I absolutely expected to continue working in the profession. Then one day I received a phone call from the dean of research at the Faculty of Law. He believed that I definitely was a candidate for further research, and asked me to consider applying for a Ph.D. position. I used all of the three weeks I had to consider the proposition, and I did not go to the post office to submit the application until the very last minute. It felt like an important life choice”.
You have written about tort law (damages), what a claim is, and what has to be taken into consideration when a claim is to be compensated. Can you give an example?
“The example that got everything started for me was this: If an attractively located house that is classified as preserved is completely destroyed for some reason, and the preservation status of the house is repealed, the site is very valuable. The cost of rebuilding the house may be one million Norwegian kroner, but the site itself is possibly worth as much as 15 million kroner. The owner has actually made a profit from the house getting completely damaged. Those who are responsible for destroying the house, for example a road construction contracting company, should cover the loss. To realize the value of the land, you probably need to sell. At the same time, you need compensation to get the funding to rebuild the house. Should the construction company be able to say: you can move, and we can avoid compensating you? I began to question fundamental truths. I thought I had chosen a narrow topic, but it grew big and difficult.
What have you found?
“In a legal dissertation you do not find new results in the same way as you may well do in other fields. But I have tried to “clean up” a little bit, so that in the future we may be able to ask the right questions. A former professor at the Law Faculty has often said that if you do not ask a question properly, it is just random luck if you get the right answer. A tenet within tort law is that "one should not profit from the damage", but certainly, one can. By taking hold of statements like this, and questioning the somewhat simplified point of departure we have had up till now, one can develop better criteria for the assessment of compensation and deductions.
What has it been like to be a PhD candidate at UiB?
“It has been surprisingly hard. It was no ‘walk in the park’ being a lawyer, and I must admit that I thought it would be a bit quieter at the university. But it has been extremely demanding. I have stretched my resources as far as I could, and then some more. When someone asks me about being a PhD candidate, I reply that to do so, one must be motivated. There are easier ways to earn a living.
What was it like to end your PhD period?
“It was a relief. At the end there was a lot of work around the clock and throughout 2014 it was a “seven days a week” project. It was very demanding. Writing a dissertation is not a solo project when you have a family. It is fantastic to have done it, but I did not get anything for free, and I am not going to forget that - for a good while”.