Florida Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Florida Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

I. Introduction to Torts

A. Definition and Purpose of Tort Law
– Torts deal with civil wrongs that cause harm or loss, leading to legal liability.
– Purpose: To provide remedies for the invasion of various protected interests like physical safety, property, privacy, and reputation.

B. Types of Torts
1. Intentional Torts
2. Negligence
3. Strict Liability

C. Damages
– Compensatory (actual loss)
– Punitive (to punish egregious conduct)

II. Intentional Torts

A. Battery
– Definition: Intentional infliction of harmful or offensive bodily contact.
– Florida Statute: Florida has no specific battery statute applicable to torts, but criminal statutes (e.g., Fla. Stat. § 784.03) can inform civil battery claims.
– Case Law: Vosburg v. Putney (a defendant may be held liable for battery even if the harmful result was unintended, if the act was intentional).

B. Assault
– Definition: Intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact.
– Case Law: I de S and Wife v. W de S (even if no actual contact occurs, the fear or apprehension of contact can suffice for assault).

C. False Imprisonment
– Definition: Intentional confinement or restraint without authority or justification and without the victim’s consent.
– Case Law: Hardy v. LaBelle’s Distributing Co. (restraint can be achieved through threat or authority; physical barriers are not necessary).

D. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)
– Definition: Intentional or reckless conduct that is extreme and outrageous, leading to severe emotional distress.
– Florida Specific: Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. McCarson (Florida recognizes IIED and requires evidence of conduct “beyond all bounds of decency”).
– Elements: Conduct must be outrageous, causation, and damages.

E. Trespass to Land
– Definition: Intentional entry onto the land of another without consent or legal privilege.
– Case Law: Dougherty v. Stepp (entry onto another’s land without permission, no matter how small, can be a trespass).

F. Trespass to Chattels and Conversion
– Trespass to Chattels: Intentionally using or interfering with another’s personal property.
– Conversion: Intentional exercise of dominion or control over another’s personal property.
– Case Law: Pearson v. Dodd (distinguishes between temporary interference (trespass) and significant interference (conversion)).

III. Negligence

A. Duty
– Definition: A legal obligation to conform to a standard of care.
– Florida Specific: Special relationships can impose specific duties, such as businesses to patrons.
– Case Law: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (established foreseeability as a factor in determining the existence of a duty).

B. Breach of Duty
– Definition: Failure to meet the standard of care.
– Florida Specific: Comparative negligence is used, meaning damages are apportioned based on the degree of fault (Fla. Stat. § 768.81).
– Case Law: Blyth v. Birmingham Waterworks Co. (breach occurs when the defendant’s conduct falls short of the standard established).

C. Causation
1. Actual Cause (Cause in Fact)
– Definition: The defendant’s conduct was a necessary condition for the occurrence of the harm.
– Test: “But-for” causation.
– Case Law: Barnett v. Chelsea & Kensington Hospital Management Committee (courts use the “but-for” test for actual causation).

  1. Proximate Cause (Legal Cause)

– Definition: A limitation on the liability for consequences caused by one’s act, based on foreseeability.
– Case Law: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (defendant only liable for foreseeable injuries).

D. Damages
– Plaintiff must show actual harm or loss.
– Types: Economic (medical expenses) and non-economic (pain and suffering).

E. Defenses to Negligence
– Contributory Negligence: Plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to the harm (not recognized in Florida).
– Comparative Negligence: Damages are reduced by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault (recognized in Florida).
– Assumption of Risk: Plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risks inherent in a particular activity.

IV. Strict Liability

A. Abnormally Dangerous Activities
– Definition: Liability without fault for damages caused by activities that are inherently dangerous.
– Case Law: Rylands v. Fletcher (established strict liability for unnatural use of land).

V. Defamation

A. Elements of Defamation
– Defamatory Statement: Statement that damages the reputation of another.
– Publication: Communication of the statement to a third party.
– Falsity: The statement must be false.
– Injury: Harm to reputation.

B. Florida Specifics
– Defamation Per Se: Certain statements are assumed harmful, e.g., allegations of criminal behavior or professional incompetence.
– Public Figures: Higher standard of proof for public figures (actual malice).

C. Defenses to Defamation
– Truth: The truth of the statement is an absolute defense.
– Privilege: Absolute (e.g., legislative proceedings) or qualified (e.g., fair report privilege).

VI. Privacy Torts

A. Intrusion upon Seclusion
– Definition: Intrusion into one’s private affairs in a manner that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
– Case Law: Nader v. General Motors Corp. (unreasonable intrusion into someone’s private life can lead to liability).

B. Appropriation of Name or Likeness
– Definition: Unauthorized use of a person’s name or likeness for commercial purposes.
– Case Law: Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. (protection against the unauthorized commercial exploitation of one’s persona).

C. Public Disclosure of Private Facts
– Definition: Making public private information about someone that would be offensive to a reasonable person.
– Florida Specific: Florida recognizes this tort but places a high value on First Amendment protections.
– Case Law: Virgil v. Time, Inc. (disclosure must be highly offensive to a reasonable person and not newsworthy).

D. False Light
– Definition: Publicizing facts about a person that puts them in a false light.
– Case Law: Time, Inc. v. Hill (false light claims often overlap with defamation).

E. Defenses to Privacy Torts
– Consent: A valid defense if the person consented to the publication or use.
– Newsworthiness: The public interest in the information can be a defense.

VII. Product Liability

A. Strict Product Liability
– Liability of commercial sellers of defective products that cause injury, without regard to negligence.
– Case Law: Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (manufacturers can be held strictly liable for defective products).

B. Negligence in Product Liability
– Failure to exercise care in the manufacture, design, or warning of a product.
– Case Law: MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. (negligence in manufacturing can lead to liability).

C. Florida Specifics
– Florida’s product liability is governed by Fla. Stat. §§ 768.81-768.83, allowing claims based on design defects, manufacturing defects, and inadequate warnings.

VIII. Conclusion

This study guide provides a comprehensive overview of the fundamental tort concepts and case law relevant to a 1L torts class. In preparation for a final semester exam, students should focus on understanding and applying each element of the torts discussed, as well as familiarizing themselves with the specific nuances of Florida tort law. It is also crucial to practice writing out the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) format to effectively analyze and answer hypothetical torts problems that may appear on the exam.

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