Iowa Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Iowa Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Introduction to Torts

Torts are civil wrongs that cause someone else to suffer loss or harm, resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. The subject of Torts in law school typically covers negligence, intentional torts, strict liability, product liability, and various defenses.

Intentional Torts

Intentional torts are those where the defendant had the intent to perform the action that led to the damage. Key intentional torts include:


Battery is an intentional act by one person that creates a harmful or offensive contact with another person. For example, in Vosburg v. Putney (1891), a schoolboy kicked another in the shin, which led to serious complications due to an unknown pre-existing condition. The court held that the liability exists even if the harm is much greater than expected.


Assault is an act that puts another person in reasonable fear of an imminent battery. No contact is necessary.

False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is the unlawful restraint of a person against their will. In Enright v. Groves (1977), the court found a police officer liable for false imprisonment after detaining someone without legal justification.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

IIED occurs when a defendant’s outrageous conduct causes severe emotional distress to another person. The case of Harris v. Jones (1977) illustrates this when the court considered whether the plaintiff had shown severe distress.

Trespass to Land

Trespass to land occurs when an individual intentionally enters or causes an object to enter the land of another without permission.

Trespass to Chattels and Conversion

Trespass to chattels is the intentional interference with the right of possession of personal property. Conversion is a more serious offense, where the interference is so severe that it warrants the payment of the full value of the item.


Negligence is the failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The elements of negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages.

Duty of Care

The duty of care is a legal obligation to avoid causing harm. The case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928) helps to explain how duty is determined.

Breach of Duty

A breach occurs when a party fails to meet the standard of care. For example, in Vaughan v. Menlove (1837), the defendant was liable for damages after causing a fire through negligence.


Causation is divided into two subcategories: actual cause (or cause in fact) and proximate cause (or legal cause). A notable case illustrating causation is Hill v. Edmonds (1966), where the court considered whether the defendant’s negligence actually caused the plaintiff’s harm.


Damages are a monetary award ordered by the court to be paid to an individual as compensation for injury or loss. They can be compensatory or punitive.

Defenses to Negligence

Defenses in negligence cases include contributory negligence, comparative negligence, assumption of risk, and immunity.

Contributory Negligence

Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, a plaintiff who is found to be partially at fault for their own injury may be barred from recovering damages. Iowa has adopted a comparative negligence system instead of contributory negligence.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence apportions damages based on the percentage of fault. Iowa follows a modified comparative negligence rule, where a plaintiff cannot recover if they are found to be 51% or more at fault.

Assumption of Risk

Assumption of risk is a defense in which the defendant claims that the plaintiff voluntarily accepted and understood the risk inherent in the activity that caused their injury.

Strict Liability

Strict liability, or liability without fault, applies to cases where the defendant is held liable for causing harm regardless of intent or negligence. This is often applied in cases of harm caused by abnormally dangerous activities or defective products.

Product Liability

Product liability holds manufacturers and sellers responsible for placing a defective product into the hands of a consumer. Liability can be based on negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty.


Defamation is a tort that covers statements that can harm a person’s reputation. In Iowa, defamation consists of four elements: a false and defamatory statement, an unprivileged publication to a third party, fault amounting to at least negligence, and either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm (defamation per se) or the existence of special harm caused by the publication.

Privacy Torts

Privacy torts include intrusion upon seclusion, appropriation of likeness, public disclosure of private facts, and false light. These torts protect the right of an individual to live without unwarranted and unwanted publicity.


Nuisance is an interference with the right to use and enjoy land. It can be either public or private.

Defenses to Intentional Torts

Defenses for intentional torts include consent, self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, necessity, and authority of law.

This guide provides an overview of main concepts in tort law with specific reference to case law and doctrines relevant for a 1L torts class. It is important to understand the specifics of Iowa law, especially for negligence defenses, as well as key case law that may be binding or persuasive in Iowa courts. Students should refer to their class notes, textbooks, and Iowa statutes and case law to prepare comprehensively for their final exam.

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