In many of its projects the Institute of European Tort Law (ETL) adopts a time-honoured methodology when conducting research into various topics: first, a questionnaire – combining abstract questions with hypothetical facts – is drawn up and after thorough discussion it is then submitted to all or a representative group of contributors with a view to gaining the necessary overview of the situation in the different legal systems or families. Contributors then draft country reports on core issues of tort law in their respective legal systems. Contributors for all our projects are leading experts on the particular field of research of each legal system under investigation. Today, the scientific staff of ETL works in conjunction with over 500 academics and specialists from 48 countries around the world (see Network). Once the country (and special reports) are in, a comparative report, which points out similarities and differences in national tort law rules, is drawn up.
The two-level approach of discussing abstract questions on the one hand and cases on the other is useful and even necessary for some projects since the theoretical approaches taken by the various legal systems often differ considerably while the results are quite similar, or, on the contrary, the results differ despite a uniform approach. The discussion of actual cases also helps to avoid misconceptions of theoretical approaches and to identify the effects theories have in practice. This method is particularly helpful in recognizing and clarifying terminological difficulties.
In drafting reports, usually the legal systems of all or some Member States of the EU are taken into account. In addition, the laws of other non-EU European such as Switzerland and Norway also tend to be consulted. Depending on the project in question, the enquiry may, however, expand beyond Europe. In particular through a close co-operation within the World Tort Law Society as well as the Sino-European Private Law Forum the Institute has been able to increasingly expand the scope of its work in recent years. Today, its work also covers the law of countries such as Australia, Canada, China, Israel, Russia, South Africa and the US.
In addition to national reports, projects tend to include special reports thus adding an often inter-disciplinary perspective. These special reports may be from an insurers' perspective, an economic analysis perspective or any other angle, which adds a pragmatic dimension or broader insight into the study at hand.