Michigan Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Michigan Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Introduction to Torts

  • Definition: A tort is a civil breach committed against another in which the injured party can sue for damages. In tort law, the injured party is seeking to obtain a private civil remedy, typically monetary compensation.
  • Purpose: The main purposes of tort law are to provide relief to injured parties for harms caused by others, to impose liability on parties responsible for the harm, and to deter others from committing harmful acts.

Intentional Torts


  • Definition: Intentional infliction of harmful or offensive contact with another’s person.
  • Key elements: Intent, harmful or offensive contact, causation.
  • Case Law: Garratt v. Dailey (young boy pulls chair from beneath an adult, court examines the intent to commit the action rather than intent to harm).


  • Definition: Intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the victim of imminent harmful or offensive contact.
  • Key elements: Intent, reasonable apprehension, immediate threat.
  • Case Law: I de S et ux v. W de S (defendant threatening to hit plaintiff with a hatchet qualifies as assault).

False Imprisonment

  • Definition: Intentional confinement of a person without legal authority or the person’s consent.
  • Key elements: Intent, confinement within fixed boundaries, knowledge of the confinement or harm from it.
  • Case Law: Enright v. Groves (police officer wrongfully detaining someone without legal justification).

Trespass to Land

  • Definition: Intentional entry onto the land of another without lawful excuse.
  • Key elements: Intent to enter, entry onto land, land owned or possessed by another.
  • Case Law: Dougherty v. Stepp (no requirement for damages to claim trespass).

Trespass to Chattels

  • Definition: Intentionally interfering with the use or possession of personal property of another.
  • Key elements: Intent, interference or dispossession, personal property.
  • Case Law: CompuServe Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc. (unauthorized use of an email server).


  • Definition: Intentionally exercising control over the personal property of another that is serious enough in nature or consequence to warrant the forced sale of the property to the converter.
  • Key elements: Intent, substantial interference with the possession or ownership of property.
  • Case Law: Kremen v. Cohen (domain name wrongfully transferred).



  • Definition: Legal obligation to conform to a standard of conduct to protect others against unreasonable risks.
  • Key elements: Foreseeability of harm, relationship between parties.
  • Special Rules in Michigan:
    • The open and obvious danger doctrine limits the duty of property owners.


  • Definition: A violation of the duty to take care.
  • Key elements: Failure to meet the standard of care, which is that of a reasonable person under similar circumstances.
  • Case Law: Blyth v. Birmingham Waterworks Co. (standard of care in context of a freak frost).


  • Definition: Connects the breach of duty to the damages suffered.
  • Two main types: Actual cause (“but for” causation) and proximate cause (legal causation).
  • Case Law: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (foreseeability in proximate cause).


  • Definition: The actual harm or injury suffered by the plaintiff.
  • Key elements: Must be legally recognizable harm. Includes economic (medical expenses, lost earnings) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering).


  • Comparative Negligence: Michigan follows a modified comparative negligence standard, where the plaintiff can recover only if the plaintiff’s negligence was not greater than the defendant’s.
  • Assumption of Risk: Plaintiff expressly or impliedly consents to encounter a known danger.

Strict Liability

  • Definition: Liability that does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm.
  • Applicable to abnormally dangerous activities, wild animals, and product liability.
  • Case Law: Rylands v. Fletcher (landowner liable for damage caused by escape of water from a reservoir).

Product Liability

  • Under Michigan law, a plaintiff can assert a product liability action based on design defect, manufacturing defect, or a failure to warn.
  • Case Law: Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (a manufacturer is liable for injuries caused by defects in design or manufacturing).


  • Definition: A false statement of fact that harms the reputation of another.
  • In Michigan, a plaintiff must prove a false and defamatory statement, an unprivileged publication to a third party, fault amounting at least to negligence, and either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm.
  • Public figures have additional burdens under the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan standard, proving actual malice.

Privacy Torts

  • Invasion of privacy includes several distinct torts in Michigan, such as public disclosure of private facts, intrusion upon seclusion, and appropriation of likeness.

Vicarious Liability

  • Definition: A party can be held liable for the torts of another, typically in an employer-employee relationship.
  • Respondeat superior: An employer is liable for the torts of an employee if committed within the scope of employment.

Tort Defenses

  • Consent: Plaintiff agreed to the conduct.
  • Self-defense: Defendant is protecting themselves from harm.
  • Defense of others: Similar to self-defense but protecting another person.
  • Defense of property: Using reasonable force to protect one’s property.


  • Compensatory: To make the plaintiff whole (economic and non-economic losses).
  • Punitive: To punish and deter particularly egregious conduct (not typically awarded in negligence cases).

Survival and Wrongful Death Actions

  • Survival actions allow the estate of a deceased person to claim damages that the deceased could have claimed if alive.
  • Wrongful death actions are claims brought by the survivors for their own loss due to the death.

This guide is an overview, and students should supplement it with class notes, case briefs, and Michigan statutes and case law for a comprehensive understanding.

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