Prof. James Henderson Jr. died at age 81.

Courtesy of Cornell University

Prof. James Henderson Jr. died at age 81.

July 13, 2019

Law Prof. James Henderson Jr., Special Master in 9/11 Victims Litigation Case, Dies at Age 81

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Prof. James Henderson Jr., Frank B. Ingersoll Professor of Law Emeritus, died on July 2 at 81. For nearly 30 years, he taught tort and product liability law at Cornell creating a lasting impact on the field.

Henderson, who graduated from Princeton University in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, received an LL.B. and LL.M. from Harvard Law School in 1962 and 1964, respectively. After teaching at the Boston University School of Law for 20 years, he came to Cornell Law in 1984.

Henderson was not only an influential lawyer who specialized in torts and product liability, but was also deemed “a hero” by The New York Times in 1984 for helping to prevent a plane crash when a “dangerously mentally ill” man jumped into the cockpit on a flight to Ithaca.

Although Henderson received the Federal Aviation Administration’s Award for Distinguished Service, he declined to go to the ceremony because of a “heavy class schedule,” according to The Times.

“This story is so telling about [Henderson],” said Prof. Douglas Kysar, who taught law at Cornell from 2001 to 2008. “He put teaching above everything else.”

In a 2013 interview with Cornell Law Forum magazine, Henderson remarked how “Cornell has been the ideal place” for him and noted how he felt “lucky to have wound up at a school that so suits my mentality.”

Henderson was very influential and entrepreneurial in the field of product liability, according to Prof. John Rachlinski, Henry Mark Allen Professor of Law.

“In many ways the design of everything we buy today, from toasters to Teslas, has been affected by his thinking about how the legal system should react to the potential for injuries these products can cause,” Rachlinski said.

In 2006, Henderson, along with current Brooklyn Law Professor Aaron Twerski, was appointed as a special master to help in the World Trade Center disaster site litigation, according to his C.V. The cases involved were “one of the most complex mass tort cases in the history of the United States,” according to a paper written by Henderson, Twerski and Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

They involved providing compensation for first-responders, police, firefighters and others who suffered from the dangerous environment after the 9/11 attacks.

Kysar remarked that his fond memories of Henderson, who he considers “one of the greats” and “the most generous colleague you could ever have,” continued even after Kysar left his position at Cornell Law School.

“Every time I called him, he would always take care before we got into business to just check in, see how I was doing, and ask about my family and my health, in a way that reminded me of what really matters in life,” Kysar said.

“There was a wonderful, humane groundedness about him that I will never be able to thank him enough for,” he added.
There will be a memorial service held on campus in Fall 2019 according to the Law School.