Alabama Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts
I. Introduction to Torts
Definition: A tort is a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, that causes harm or loss. The law of torts seeks to provide remedies for the invasion of various protected interests.
II. Intentional Torts
Battery: Intentional infliction of harmful or offensive contact with another’s person without consent.
- Case Law Example: Garratt v. Dailey (1955) – A child moves a chair causing an adult to fall. The court looked at whether the child had substantial knowledge that the action would result in harmful consequences.
Assault: Intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the victim of imminent harmful or offensive contact.
- Case Law Example: I de S and Wife v. W de S (1348) – The defendant swung a hatchet at the plaintiff but did not hit her. It was an early case that helped shape the distinction between assault and battery.
False Imprisonment: Intentional confinement of a person without lawful privilege and against their consent within a limited area for any amount of time.
- Case Law Example: Whittaker v. Sanford (1917) – The court held that a person who was taken on a boat against her will and not allowed to leave was falsely imprisoned.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED): Extreme and outrageous conduct that intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress.
- Case Law Example: Harris v. Jones (1977) – The court evaluated the severity of emotional distress required for a claim of IIED.
Trespass to Land: Intentional and unlawful physical invasion of another’s real property.
- Case Law Example: Dougherty v. Stepp (1835) – The court decided that any unauthorized entry onto another’s land is trespass, regardless of damage.
Trespass to Chattels: Intentionally interfering with another person’s lawful possession of personal property.
- Case Law Example: CompuServe Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc. (1997) – The court held that sending unsolicited email could constitute trespass to chattels.
Conversion: Intentional exercise of control over another’s personal property that so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay for the full value of the item.
Duty: The legal obligation to conform to a standard of conduct for the protection of others against unreasonable risks.
Breach: Failure to meet the standard of care which a reasonable person would provide.
Causation: The requirement that the breach of duty be the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
- Actual Cause (Cause in Fact): The breach of duty must be the actual cause of the injury. The “but-for” test is commonly used to establish this.
- Proximate Cause (Legal Cause): Limits liability to consequences that bear a reasonable relationship to the negligent conduct.
Damages: The plaintiff must have suffered actual harm as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
- Case Law Example: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928) – The court held that the defendant owes a duty only to those who could foreseeably be harmed by the conduct.
Defenses to Negligence:
– Comparative Negligence: The plaintiff’s compensation is reduced by the percentage of their fault.
– Contributory Negligence: If the plaintiff is found to have contributed to their harm, they may be barred from recovery.
– Assumption of Risk: The plaintiff knowingly exposed themselves to a risk and thus is barred from recovery.
IV. Strict Liability
Liability Without Fault: Liability for damages even if the defendant exercised all possible care. Typically applies in cases of abnormally dangerous activities, wild animals, and product liability.
- Case Law Example: Rylands v. Fletcher (1868) – Established that a person who brings something hazardous onto their land and keeps it there is strictly liable for any harm that results.
V. Products Liability
Manufacturing Defects: When the product departs from its intended design and as a result is unreasonably dangerous.
Design Defects: When the product is manufactured as intended but the design is inherently dangerous.
Failure to Warn: When the product lacks adequate instructions or warnings, and this failure renders the product unreasonably dangerous.
Libel and Slander: A false statement that injures a person’s reputation. Libel is written, and slander is spoken. The plaintiff must prove the statement was false, defamatory, and made to a third party.
- Case Law Example: New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) – Established the “actual malice” standard for defamation cases involving public figures.
VII. Privacy Torts
Intrusion upon Seclusion: Invading someone’s private affairs without permission.
Public Disclosure of Private Facts: Publicizing private information about a person in a way that a reasonable person would find highly offensive.
False Light: Publicizing information about a person that is not true and would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
Appropriation: Using someone’s name or likeness for commercial gain without their permission.
VIII. Defenses to Intentional Torts
Consent: The plaintiff agreed to the conduct, either explicitly or implicitly.
Self-Defense: The defendant was protecting themselves from immediate harm.
Defense of Others: The defendant was protecting another person from immediate harm.
Defense of Property: The defendant was protecting their property from invasion or damage.
Necessity: The defendant’s actions were necessary to prevent a greater harm.
IX. Damages in Tort Law
Compensatory Damages: Intended to compensate the plaintiff for actual losses.
Punitive Damages: Intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct and deter future similar conduct.
Nominal Damages: A small sum awarded when the plaintiff’s rights have been violated but no actual damage occurred.
X. Conclusion and Exam Preparation
In preparing for your final exam, ensure to review each topic, understand the applicable case law, and be able to apply the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) method to hypothetical scenarios. Note that this guide provides an overview, and you should refer to specific Alabama statutes and judicial opinions for a more detailed understanding of Alabama Tort Law.