Missouri Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts
Torts law is a body of law that addresses and provides remedies for civil wrongs not arising out of contractual obligations. A person who suffers legal damage may be able to use tort law to receive compensation from someone who is legally responsible, or liable, for those injuries. Generally, torts law is divided into three main categories: intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability.
Intentional torts occur when a person intentionally acts in a certain way that leads to another person’s injury. Some common intentional torts include assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass to land, trespass to chattels, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
- Battery: Intentional and harmful or offensive physical contact.
Case: Fisher v. Carrousel Motor Hotel, Inc. – A plaintiff was awarded battery damages when his plate was snatched with such force that the contents spilled onto his clothes, even without direct physical contact with his person.
Assault: Intentional act creating a reasonable apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact.
Case: Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Hill – A plaintiff must have a reasonable apprehension of imminent battery for an assault claim.
False Imprisonment: Intentional act of restraining another’s freedom of movement without legal justification.
Case: Whittaker v. Sanford – A person who was tricked into boarding a boat and unable to leave was falsely imprisoned.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causing severe emotional distress.
Case: Harris v. Jones – To prevail, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, that the defendant intended to cause distress or recklessly disregarded the likelihood of causing distress, and that the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.
Negligence is conduct that falls below the legal standard established to protect others against unreasonable risk of harm. In Missouri, as in other states, the plaintiff must establish four elements to prove a negligence claim: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
- Duty: A legal obligation to conform to a standard of conduct for the protection of others against unreasonable risks.
Case: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. – Duty is owed to those who are within the reasonably foreseeable zone of danger.
Breach: Failure to conform to the required standard of conduct.
Case: Vaughan v. Menlove – The defendant’s failure to heed warnings about the risk of fire was a breach of his duty to his neighbors.
Causation: A reasonable connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting harm. Missouri uses the “but for” test for actual causation and the “substantial factor” test for proximate causation.
Case: Herskovitz v. Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound – A defendant’s conduct does not need to be the sole cause of harm but must be a substantial factor.
Damages: The plaintiff must prove that they suffered actual harm as a result of the breach.
Case: McDougald v. Perry – The court discusses compensatory damages for personal injuries, including both present and future medical expenses.
Defenses to Negligence: Comparative Fault is applicable in Missouri, meaning a plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by their percentage of fault.
Case: Gustafson v. Benda – The court adopted the pure comparative fault rule, allowing a plaintiff to recover even if they are found to be 99% at fault.
Strict liability holds a defendant liable for the plaintiff’s injuries without the need for a finding of fault. Missouri recognizes strict liability in certain circumstances, particularly involving abnormally dangerous activities and product liability.
- Abnormally Dangerous Activities: Activities that carry an inherent risk of serious harm and cannot be made completely safe.
Case: Foster v. Preston Mill Co. – The court held that the defendant was strictly liable for damages caused by the blasting operations, as it was an abnormally dangerous activity.
Product Liability: Manufacturers and sellers can be strictly liable for injuries caused by defective products.
Case: Keener v. Dayton Electric Manufacturing Co. – The court found that strict liability applies when a product is in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user.
Missouri Tort Reform
Missouri has enacted several tort reforms that impact how tort cases are handled in the state. Students should be aware of the following:
- Non-economic damages caps in medical malpractice cases.
- The adoption of the Daubert standard for expert witness testimony.
- Changes to the collateral source rule, which can affect the amount of damages recoverable.
By understanding these key concepts, cases, and the specific nuances of Missouri tort law, students will be prepared to tackle a variety of hypotheticals and apply the law effectively on their final semester exam.