Maryland Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts
I. Introduction to Torts
- Definition: A tort is a civil wrong, other than breach of contract, for which the law provides a remedy.
- Purpose: The purpose of tort law is to compensate victims for harm caused by others, to deter unsafe behavior, and to vindicate rights.
II. Intentional Torts
- Battery: Intentional and harmful or offensive contact with another person.
- Assault: Intentional act that causes a reasonable apprehension of imminent and harmful contact.
- False Imprisonment: Intentional act that confines another within boundaries set by the perpetrator, without lawful privilege.
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED): Intentional or reckless conduct that is extreme and outrageous, causing severe emotional distress.
- Trespass to Land: Intentional and unlawful entry onto land in possession of another.
- Trespass to Chattels: Intentional interference with another’s use or possession of personal property.
- Conversion: Intentional exercise of control over another’s personal property that seriously interferes with their right of control.
- Vosburg v. Putney (1891) – A landmark case for battery; established that the intention to harm is not necessary, only the intention to contact.
- Issue: Whether an unintentional harmful contact can constitute battery.
- Rule: Battery requires an intentional act resulting in harmful or offensive contact, not the intent to harm.
- Application: The defendant’s act of kicking the plaintiff, despite being seemingly harmless, resulted in significant injury.
- Conclusion: The court held that the defendant was liable for battery.
- Duty: The obligation to conform to a standard of care.
- Breach: Failure to conform to the required standard.
- Causation: The requirement that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s harm.
- Actual Cause: The “but for” test or “substantial factor” test.
- Proximate Cause: The foreseeability of the harm.
- Damages: Actual loss or harm suffered by the plaintiff.
- Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928) – A foundational case on proximate cause.
- Issue: Whether the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff when the harm was not foreseeable.
- Rule: A defendant owes a duty of care to those who could be foreseeably harmed by the defendant’s actions.
- Application: The defendant’s actions were not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury because the harm was not foreseeable.
- Conclusion: The court held that the railroad was not liable to Palsgraf because the injury was not a foreseeable result of the employee’s actions.
IV. Defenses to Negligence
- Contributory Negligence: Failure of the plaintiff to act prudently, considered a complete bar to the plaintiff’s action in Maryland.
- Assumption of Risk: The plaintiff’s knowledge and voluntary acceptance of a risk.
- Comparative Negligence: Apportionment of fault between the plaintiff and defendant (not applicable in Maryland, which follows contributory negligence).
V. Strict Liability
- Abnormally Dangerous Activities: Liability imposed for harm resulting from activities that are inherently dangerous.
- Animals: Owners are typically strictly liable for harm caused by wild animals and sometimes for domestic animals with known propensities for dangerous behavior.
- Rylands v. Fletcher (1868) – Traditional strict liability case involving abnormally dangerous activities.
- Issue: Whether a person who brings something onto their land that is likely to do harm if it escapes is strictly liable for any damage it causes.
- Rule: Strict liability is imposed for non-natural use of land that causes harm to others.
- Application: The defendant’s construction of a reservoir which subsequently burst and flooded the plaintiff’s mines was a non-natural use of land.
- Conclusion: The court held that the defendant was strictly liable for the damages.
VI. Products Liability
- Manufacturing Defect: Product departs from its intended design.
- Design Defect: Product is manufactured as intended but the design is unreasonably dangerous.
- Warning Defect: Failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions.
- Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) – Early products liability case.
- Issue: Whether a manufacturer is liable for injuries caused by a defect in the design or manufacture of its product.
- Rule: A manufacturer is strictly liable in tort when an article he places on the market, knowing that it is to be used without inspection, proves to have a defect that causes injury.
- Application: The product in question caused injury due to a defect present at the time of sale.
- Conclusion: The court held that the manufacturer was strictly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
- Compensatory Damages: To make the plaintiff whole for the losses caused by the defendant’s conduct.
- Punitive Damages: Designed to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct and deter future similar conduct (rarely awarded in tort cases).
VIII. Maryland-Specific Tort Concepts
- Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings § 5-101: Provides a three-year statute of limitations for civil actions, including tort claims.
- Contributory Negligence in Maryland: Maryland is one of the few states that still recognizes contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery in negligence cases.
- Economic Loss Doctrine in Maryland: Maryland follows the economic loss doctrine, which prohibits recovery in tort for purely economic losses without accompanying injury or property damage.
- Coleman v. Soccer Association of Columbia (2013) – Maryland Court of Appeals case addressing assumption of risk.
- Issue: Whether a participant in a sporting event assumes the inherent risks of the activity.
- Rule: A participant in an athletic event assumes the risks inherent in the sport.
- Application: The plaintiff was injured during a soccer game, an activity known for certain inherent risks.
- Conclusion: The court held that the plaintiff assumed the risks inherent in the sport and the defendant was not liable.
This study guide covers the foundational concepts and case law for a 1L Torts course, with an emphasis on Maryland law where it diverges from general U.S. tort law principles. It provides a starting point for understanding the key issues and should be supplemented with detailed case briefs, class notes, and statutory materials for a comprehensive exam preparation.