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Marshall Shapo, Northwestern Law professor, dies at 87

Longtime professor was nationally recognized authority on torts and products liability law
marshall shapo
Marshall S. Shapo joined the Law School faculty in 1978 and taught courses on torts and product liability. His areas of expertise also included consumer law, injury compensation, and fraudulent and deceptive practices.

Marshall S. Shapo, Frederic P. Vose Professor of Law Emeritus at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and a nationally recognized authority on torts and products liability law, died Nov. 17. He was 87.

Shapo joined the Law School faculty in 1978 and taught courses on torts and product liability. His areas of expertise also included consumer law, injury compensation, and fraudulent and deceptive practices.

“Marshall was a beloved member of our community, who contributed tremendously during his 50-plus-year academic career, 40 years of which were spent at our Law School,” said Hari M. Osofsky, dean of Northwestern Pritzker Law and the Myra and James Bradwell Professor of Law. “He was a leading expert in torts and product liability whose over 25 books and numerous articles significantly influenced both scholarly and public understandings of those fields.

“His priority, however, was teaching and mentoring generations of lawyers and law scholars, upon whom his impact was extraordinary. Above all, he treasured Helene, with whom he wrote a successful book about preparing for and thriving in law school.”

Shapo was married to Helene Shapo, professor of law emerita at Northwestern. The couple co-wrote “Law School Without Fear: Strategies for Success,” published in 2009.

In 2018, Shapo was named the recipient of the 2018 William L. Prosser Award by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Torts and Compensation Systems. The Prosser Award recognizes outstanding contributions in scholarship, teaching and service related to tort law.

The Law School and Northwestern University Law Review honored Shapo in 2021 with an online Festschrift recognizing his achievements.

As Northwestern Law professor Jim Pfander shared at that time: “Professor Shapo’s paper, ‘Constitutional Tort: Monroe v. Pape, and the Frontiers Beyond,’ has been credited with coining the term that now defines the field. How fitting that the paper appeared in the Northwestern University Law Review at the very dawn of Professor Shapo’s career as a law professor …[and] we now celebrate Professor Shapo’s work in the pages of the same Law Review.”

Shapo spoke with the Law School about his then new book “The Experimental Society” in 2016, which drew upon his years of research focused on the law of products liability. “I began to recognize that all of the time we are all experimental animals for various kinds of products and activities,” Shapo said. “Sometimes we know that we are ‘guinea pigs,’ for example, when we are subjects of clinical research for which we sign consent forms. Often, however, we do not know of that role and only find out about it if a product or activity injures us. I have now developed that concept in three books, of which ‘The Experimental Society’ is the most recent.”

Shapo’s 2005 book, “Compensation for Victims of Terror,” brought to bear on that specific subject his rich background in the law of injuries. Other books include the magisterial two-volume treatise, “The Law of Products Liability,” which has now grown with supplements to more than 3,500 pages. His book length monograph, “A Representational Theory of Consumer Protection,” was published as an entire issue of the Virginia Law Review. He was the principal author of “Towards a Jurisprudence of Injury: The Continuing Creation of a System of Substantive Justice in American Tort Law,” a commentary written in his capacity as reporter for the Special Committee on the Tort Liability System of the American Bar Association. His coursebook “Tort and Injury Law” synthesizes his approach to the subject developed over more than 40 years of teaching.

Shapo made a major impact on both the profession and public policy through serving as an Adviser for the Restatement of the Law (Third): Products Liability and on various committees of the Tort and Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association. That section awarded him the Robert B. McKay Law Professor Award in 2005. He also frequently provided congressional testimony to committees and at other hearings.

For more than 35 years, Northwestern Law professor Len Rubinowitz had the office next to Shapo, noting that he could not have imagined having a better colleague and friend as a neighbor for all that time. “I had a chance to observe his incredible commitment to his students, along with the great creativity and competence with which he dealt with them both in and out of class,” Rubinowitz said. “I often wished I could be a student of Marshall’s; but, of course, I already was.”

Shapo received an AB, summa cum laude, and LLB, magna cum laude, from the University of Miami, where he was first in his class and served as editor-in-chief of the University of Miami Law Review. His graduate degrees are an AM in history and an SJD, both from Harvard University. Before joining the Northwestern faculty in 1978, Shapo was Joseph M. Hartfield Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and a member of the faculty at the University of Texas School of Law.

Shapo is survived by his wife, Helene; children Benjamin and Nathaniel; and seven grandchildren. Services have been held.

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