Illinois Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Illinois Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

I. Introduction to Torts

A tort is a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, for which the law provides a remedy. It involves an act or omission that results in injury or harm to another, and the injured party may seek compensation through a lawsuit.

II. Intentional Torts

  • Battery: Intentional infliction of harmful or offensive contact. Contact is offensive if it would offend a reasonable sense of personal dignity.
    • Vosburg v. Putney (1891): A case where a seemingly harmless kick in the classroom led to serious injury. Liability for battery was found, even without malicious intent, emphasizing that intent and harm are separate considerations.
  • Assault: Intentional act causing reasonable apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact.
    • I de S and Wife v. W de S (1348): One of the earliest assault cases where shouting threats was deemed enough for liability.
  • False Imprisonment: Intentional confinement of a person without legal authority or the person’s consent.
    • Enright v. Groves (1977): A police officer falsely imprisoned a motorist by taking her license without cause, showing that even law enforcement can be liable.
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED): Extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causing severe emotional distress.
    • Public Finance Corp. v. Davis (1976): The Illinois case established that IIED requires conduct beyond all bounds of decency.
  • Trespass to Land: Intentional, unauthorized entry onto land in possession of another.
    • Dougherty v. Stepp (1835): Established that any unauthorized entry, no matter how insignificant, can constitute a trespass.
  • Trespass to Chattels: Intentional interference with a person’s use or possession of a movable personal property.
    • CompuServe Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc. (1997): Sending unsolicited emails was held to be trespass to chattels.
  • Conversion: Intentional exercise of dominion or control over another’s chattel which so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay the other the full value of the chattel.
    • Kremen v. Cohen (2003): The unauthorized transfer of a domain name was treated as conversion.

III. Negligence

  • Duty: The obligation to conform to a certain standard of conduct for the protection of others against unreasonable risks.
    • Illinois Specific: Illinois uses the “reasonable person” standard and considers foreseeability and the relationship between the parties.
  • Breach of Duty: A failure to conform to the standard required.
    • Adams v. Bullock (1919): A breach occurs only when the conduct falls short of the standard.
  • Causation: A factual link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the harm experienced by the plaintiff.
    • Actual Cause (Cause in Fact): “But for” the defendant’s actions, the harm would not have occurred.
    • Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928): The harm must have been foreseeable to impose liability for negligence.
    • Proximate Cause (Legal Cause): The extent to which, as a matter of policy, the defendant will be held liable for the consequences of his actions.
    • Ryan v. New York Central R.R. Co. (1858): Introduced the “fire cases” rule for proximate cause, limiting liability to foreseeable harm.
  • Damages: The plaintiff must demonstrate actual loss or harm to receive compensation.
    • Illinois Specific: Illinois follows a modified comparative negligence rule, where a plaintiff can only recover damages if they are less than 50% at fault.

IV. Strict Liability

  • Strict Liability for Animals: Owners are strictly liable for harm inflicted by their wild animals and, in some cases, their domestic animals.
    • Illinois Animal Control Act: Imposes strict liability on animal owners for injuries caused by their animals, with some exceptions.
  • Abnormally Dangerous Activities: Liability may be imposed for certain activities that necessarily carry a risk of serious harm, even when all reasonable safety measures are taken.
    • Rylands v. Fletcher (1868): Established that people who engage in “non-natural” use of land are strictly liable for the damages caused by that use.

V. Defenses to Torts

  • Consent: Voluntary acceptance of a risk of harm associated with the defendant’s conduct.
  • Self-Defense: The use of reasonable force to protect oneself from an apparent threat of harm.
  • Defense of Others: Similar to self-defense, but involves the protection of another person.
  • Defense of Property: The use of reasonable force to protect one’s property.
  • Necessity: Conduct that would otherwise be a tort may be excused if the defendant acts out of a necessity to prevent a greater harm.
  • Contributory Negligence: A plaintiff’s own negligence that contributed to their harm can limit or bar recovery (not generally applied in Illinois).
  • Comparative Negligence: The plaintiff’s damages are reduced by the percentage of their fault (applied in Illinois).

VI. Damages

  • Compensatory Damages: Intended to compensate the plaintiff for losses suffered (economic and non-economic).
  • Punitive Damages: Intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct and deter future conduct (not favored in Illinois and subject to limitations).
  • Nominal Damages: Symbolic damages awarded when a tort is committed, but no actual injury resulted.

VII. Vicarious Liability

  • Respondeat Superior: An employer is liable for tortious acts committed by an employee while acting within the scope of their employment.
    • Christensen v. Swenson (1994): The court held that the employer was not liable for the actions of an off-duty police officer.
  • Joint and Several Liability: Each defendant is liable for the whole damage regardless of their individual share.
    • Illinois Specific: Illinois follows a modified joint and several liability doctrine, where a defendant can only be held jointly and severally liable if they are found to be more than 25% at fault for the injury.

VIII. Products Liability

  • Manufacturing Defect: The product departs from its intended design and is more dangerous than consumers expect.
  • Design Defect: The product’s design is inherently unsafe, even if manufactured correctly (Illinois uses the “consumer expectation test” and “risk-utility test”).
  • Warning Defect: Failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions about the product’s risks.
    • Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc. (2014): A landmark Pennsylvania case that discussed the complexities of design defects and consumer expectations, which can be instructive in an Illinois context.

This study guide provides an overview of the key concepts and case law in the field of torts, tailored to an Illinois 1L law school class. When preparing for a final semester exam, students should further explore each of these topics, understand the specific applications in Illinois, and be able to apply the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) format to hypothetical fact patterns.

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