California Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

California Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Introduction to Torts

  • Definition: A tort is a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, for which a remedy may be obtained.
  • Purpose of Tort Law: To provide a remedy for injury or damages caused by one party to another.
  • Types of Torts: Intentional, Negligent, and Strict Liability.

Intentional Torts


  • Definition: Intentional infliction of harmful or offensive contact.
  • Elements: Intent, harmful or offensive contact, causation.
  • Case: Garratt v. Dailey (Child moving chair resulting in injury).


  • Definition: Intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact.
  • Elements: Intent, reasonable apprehension, immediacy.
  • Case: Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Hill (Employee’s actions causing fear of battery).

False Imprisonment

  • Definition: Intentional confinement within boundaries set by the defendant.
  • Elements: Intent, confinement, awareness of confinement.
  • Case: Enright v. Groves (Police officer wrongfully detaining a person).

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

  • Definition: Extreme and outrageous conduct causing severe emotional distress.
  • Elements: Intent or recklessness, extreme and outrageous conduct, severe emotional distress.
  • Case: Christensen v. Superior Court (Harassment causing emotional distress).

Trespass to Land

  • Definition: Intentional entry onto the land of another without permission.
  • Elements: Intent, entry, land of another.
  • Case: Rogers v. Board of Road Com’rs for Kent County (Unauthorized entry onto property).

Trespass to Chattels and Conversion

  • Trespass to Chattels: Intentional interference with the plaintiff’s use or possession of a chattel.
  • Conversion: Intentional exercise of dominion or control over a chattel which so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it.
  • Case: Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (Sending emails to employees constituted trespass to chattels).



  • Definition: Legal obligation to conform to a standard of conduct for the protection of others.
  • Standard of Care: The degree of care that a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances.
  • Special Duties: Duties owed to children, professionals, and landowners.
  • Case: Rowland v. Christian (Foreseeable harm standard in California).

Breach of Duty

  • Definition: Failure to meet the standard of care.
  • Tests: Reasonable person standard, custom, risk-utility analysis.
  • Case: Vaughan v. Menlove (Defendant’s failure to heed warnings about fire risk).


  • Actual Cause (Cause in Fact): But-for test or substantial factor test.
  • Proximate Cause (Legal Cause): Foreseeable harm within the scope of risk.
  • Case: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (Scope of foreseeable risk).


  • Compensatory Damages: Designed to make the plaintiff whole.
  • Punitive Damages: Intended to punish and deter wrongful conduct.
  • Case: State Rubbish Collectors Ass’n v. Siliznoff (Punitive damages for IIED).

Defenses to Negligence

  • Contributory Negligence: Plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to the harm (not recognized in California).
  • Comparative Negligence: The plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by the percentage of their fault (California follows pure comparative negligence).
  • Assumption of Risk: Plaintiff voluntarily encounters a known danger.
  • Case: Li v. Yellow Cab Co. (Introduction of comparative negligence in California).

Strict Liability

Abnormally Dangerous Activities

  • Definition: Activities that carry a risk of serious harm, which cannot be eliminated even with reasonable care.
  • Case: Rylands v. Fletcher (Escape of water from reservoir).

Product Liability

  • Defective Products: Manufacturing defects, design defects, and failure to warn.
  • Strict liability in tort for defective products.
  • Case: Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (California’s adoption of strict product liability).


  • Owner’s liability for harm caused by wild animals and, in some cases, domestic animals.
  • Case: Priebe v. Nelson (Liability for injury caused by domestic animals).


  • Elements: False statement, published to a third party, causes damage to reputation, fault.
  • Slander (spoken) vs. Libel (written).
  • Defenses: Truth, privilege, consent.
  • Case: New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (Actual malice standard for public figures).

Privacy Torts

  • Intrusion upon seclusion
  • Public disclosure of private facts
  • False light
  • Appropriation of name or likeness

Vicarious Liability

  • Employers may be held liable for torts committed by employees within the scope of employment.
  • Case: Christensen v. Swedish Hospital (Employer liability for employee’s negligence).


This comprehensive guide covers the fundamental tort concepts, cases, and California-specific laws that 1L students must understand to prepare for their final semester exam. Mastery of these concepts and the ability to apply them analytically to hypothetical scenarios will be crucial for exam success.

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