Massachusetts Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Massachusetts Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

I. Introduction to Torts

Torts is a body of law that addresses and provides remedies for civil wrongs not arising out of contractual obligations. A person who suffers a tortious injury may be entitled to receive compensation for damage.

A. Definition of Tort

A tort is a civil breach committed against another in which the injured party can sue for damages. In the context of torts, “injury” describes the invasion of any legal right, whereas “damage” means loss or harm suffered as a result of the breach of a legal duty.

B. Purposes of Tort Law

The primary purposes of tort law are to provide relief to injured parties, impose liability on parties responsible for the harm, and deter others from committing harmful acts.

II. Intentional Torts

Intentional torts are civil wrongs resulting from intentional acts, as opposed to negligence or strict liability torts.

A. Battery

Battery is an intentional and offensive touching of another person without lawful justification.

Case: Commonwealth v. Chou (2006)

  • Issue: Whether the defendant’s act of touching a police officer’s hand to prevent him from writing a ticket constituted a battery.
  • Rule: Battery occurs with any intentional physical contact, however slight, that is harmful or offensive, and made without the consent of the touched person.
  • Analysis: The court held that an unwanted touching, no matter how slight, can constitute a battery.
  • Conclusion: The defendant’s act was a battery.

B. Assault

Assault is an act that creates a reasonable apprehension in another of an imminent battery.

C. False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is an unlawful restraint of an individual’s freedom of movement.

D. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

This tort requires an extreme and outrageous act by the defendant intended to cause, and causing, severe emotional distress to another.

III. Defenses to Intentional Torts

Defenses to intentional torts include consent, self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, necessity, and the privilege of arrest.

IV. Negligence

Negligence is the failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.

A. Duty

The defendant owes a duty to conform to a specific standard of conduct for the protection of the plaintiff against an unreasonable risk of injury.

B. Breach of Duty

The defendant’s failure to conform to the required standard.

C. Causation

Two types of causation are required: actual cause (’cause in fact’) and proximate cause (legal cause).

D. Damages

The plaintiff must have suffered actual loss or harm.

Case: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928)

  • Issue: Whether the defendant railroad was liable for injuries to a distant bystander caused by an unforeseeable series of events.
  • Rule: A defendant owes a duty of care only to those who are in the reasonably foreseeable zone of danger.
  • Analysis: The court found that the harm to Palsgraf was not foreseeable by the railroad’s employees.
  • Conclusion: The railroad was not liable for Palsgraf’s injuries.

V. Strict Liability

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that makes a party responsible for damages their actions or products cause, regardless of any negligence on their part.

A. Abnormally Dangerous Activities

Activities that, by their nature, pose a high risk of harm and cannot be completely guarded against by the exercise of reasonable care.

B. Product Liability

Manufacturers and sellers can be held strictly liable for defective products that cause injury to consumers.

VI. Product Liability

In Massachusetts, product liability claims can be based on negligence, breach of warranty, or strict liability.

A. Negligence

Manufacturers must exercise reasonable care in the design, manufacture, and labeling of products.

B. Breach of Warranty

Warranties are assurances regarding certain facts about the goods being sold, including an implied warranty of merchantability.

C. Strict Product Liability

Holds manufacturers and sellers liable for defective products, regardless of fault.

VII. Damages

Damages in tort law are awarded to compensate the victim for losses suffered.

A. Compensatory Damages

Intended to reimburse the plaintiff for actual losses (both economic and non-economic losses).

B. Punitive Damages

Intended to punish the defendant for egregious wrongdoing and deter future misconduct.

VIII. Joint and Several Liability

Massachusetts follows a modified form of joint and several liability, where a defendant can be held responsible for the full amount of damages if they are found to be 50 percent or more at fault.

IX. Comparative Negligence

Massachusetts applies a modified comparative negligence rule. A plaintiff can recover damages only if their fault does not exceed 50 percent of the total fault.

X. Statute of Limitations

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for most tort actions is three years from the date of the injury or when the plaintiff learned of the injury.

XI. Trespass to Land

Trespass to land involves the unauthorized and intentional intrusion onto someone else’s property.

XII. Nuisance

A private nuisance is a substantial and unreasonable interference with the private use and enjoyment of land.

XIII. Defamation

Defamation involves an untrue statement that harms the reputation of another. In Massachusetts, a plaintiff must prove actual malice for statements related to public figures or matters of public concern.

This study guide provides an overview of the fundamental concepts and case law that are typically covered in a first-year tort law class in Massachusetts. Refer to specific course materials, statutes, and additional case law for detailed study and analysis.

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