Professor Emeritus Robert E. Keeton S.J.D. ’56, a leading scholar on insurance law, torts, and trial tactics who taught at Harvard Law School and served as a District Court judge, died July 2 at the age of 88.
“Judge Keeton served on the HLS faculty for 26 years prior to his appointment to the federal bench in 1979,” said Dean Elena Kagan ’86. “He was a great teacher, scholar, and judge who will always be known as a pioneer in insurance and tort law.”
Robert Keeton was born in Clarksville, Texas, on December 16, 1919 and obtained a B.B.A. and an LL.B. from the University of Texas. He practiced law in Houston, Texas, until going into active duty with the Navy. Serving as a lieutenant in World War II, he earned a Purple Heart for surviving a torpedo blast while aboard the escort aircraft carrier USS Liscome Bay on November 24, 1943.
Keeton returned to private practice in Houston after the War and then began teaching at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1951. In 1953, he joined the HLS faculty and obtained his S.J.D. degree in 1956. He was known as a leading expert on torts and insurance law.
His published works includ “Tort and Accident Law,” one of the leading texts in the field. HLS Professors Henry Steiner ’55 and Lewis Sargentich ’70 collaborated with Keeton on various editions of this work.
Among the most important of Keeton’s contributions to insurance law was a ground-breaking study on the automobile insurance system, which led to the passage of Massachusetts’ no-fault auto insurance law.
Keeton was named the Langdell Professor of Law in 1973 and was also associate dean from 1975 through 1979.
In 1979, Keeton was appointed to the federal court by President Carter and quickly became known as a “judge’s judge” for his sharp intellect and respect for the rule of law. He presided over several high-profile cases, including the 1989 conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion trial of presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche Jr., which ended in a mistrial.
He served in his federal post until 2006, when he retired as the oldest member of the federal judiciary in Massachusetts.