New York Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

New York Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

Introduction to Tort Law

  • Definition: A tort is a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, for which the court will provide a remedy in the form of an action for damages.
  • Purpose: Compensation for injured parties, deterrence of harmful conduct, and societal protection.

Intentional Torts


  • Definition: Intentional infliction of harmful or offensive contact.
  • Elements: Intent, contact, harm or offensiveness.
  • Case Law: Garratt v. Dailey (young boy pulls chair from underneath plaintiff).


  • Definition: Intentional creation of a reasonable apprehension of immediate harmful or offensive contact.
  • Elements: Intent, reasonable apprehension, immediate threat.
  • Case Law: I de S and Wife v. W de S (throwing a hatchet but missing).

False Imprisonment

  • Definition: Intentional confinement of a person without lawful privilege and without consent.
  • Elements: Intent, confinement within a bounded area, awareness of confinement.
  • Case Law: Enright v. Groves (police wrongfully arresting someone).

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

  • Definition: Intentional or reckless conduct that is extreme and outrageous, causing severe emotional distress.
  • Elements: Intent or recklessness, extreme and outrageous conduct, causation, severe emotional distress.
  • Case Law: Howell v. New York Post Co. (invasion of privacy of a hospitalized person).

Trespass to Land

  • Definition: Intentional entry onto the land of another without lawful authority.
  • Elements: Intent, entry, land of another.
  • Case Law: Boomer v. Atlantic Cement Co. (indirect invasion considered trespass).

Trespass to Chattels

  • Definition: Intentionally dispossessing another of their chattel or using or intermeddling with a chattel in the possession of another.
  • Elements: Intent, interference with possession, chattel.
  • Case Law: CompuServe Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc. (sending unauthorized emails to servers).


  • Definition: Intentional exercise of dominion or control over a chattel that so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay the other the full value of the chattel.
  • Elements: Intent, exercise of dominion or control, chattel, serious interference.
  • Case Law: Sporn v. MCA Records, Inc. (unauthorized use of celebrity’s name).

Defenses to Intentional Torts


  • Definition: Willingness in fact for conduct to occur; may be expressed or implied from conduct.
  • Case Law: Hogan v. Tavzel (disease transmission despite consent to contact).


  • Justification for using reasonable force to protect oneself from physical harm.
  • Case Law: Katko v. Briney (use of deadly force in protection of property).

Defense of Others

  • Similar to self-defense but protecting another person.

Defense of Property

  • Right to use reasonable force to defend one’s property, but not deadly force.


  • Public necessity (for the greater good) or private necessity (benefits fewer people) may justify an intentional tort.


Duty of Care

  • Definition: Legal obligation to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others.
  • Elements: Foreseeability, standard of care.
  • Case Law: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (foreseeability in duty).

Breach of Duty

  • Definition: Failure to meet the standard of care.
  • Elements: Comparison to the reasonable person standard.
  • Case Law: Blyth v. Birmingham Waterworks Co. (standard of care during unusual frost).


  • Actual Cause: “But for” the defendant’s conduct, the injury would not have occurred.
  • Proximate Cause: Legal cause; it was foreseeable that the conduct would cause this type of harm.
  • Case Law: Wagon Mound No.1 (foreseeability in proximate cause).


  • Definition: Actual loss resulting from the defendant’s conduct.
  • Elements: Compensatory and possibly punitive damages.


  • Definition: Compensation for harm suffered due to the breach of duty.
  • Elements: Actual and compensatory damages, sometimes punitive.
  • Case Law: McDougald v. Garber (pain and suffering damages in NY).

Defenses to Negligence

Comparative Negligence

  • New York Rule: Pure comparative negligence—damages are apportioned according to fault.
  • Case Law: Arbegast v. Board of Education (comparative negligence in NY).

Assumption of Risk

  • Plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks associated with an activity.

Contributory Negligence

  • Not a defense in New York due to the adoption of comparative negligence.

Strict Liability

Abnormally Dangerous Activities

  • Liability for damages caused by activities that are inherently dangerous and not common.
  • Case Law: Rylands v. Fletcher (classic English case applied in the US).

Product Liability

  • Manufacturers and sellers are strictly liable for defective products that cause injury.

Privacy Torts

  • Definition: Invasion of a person’s private life without just cause, including appropriation, intrusion, public disclosure of private facts, and false light.
  • Case Law: Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. (promissory estoppel applied to confidentiality promise).


Slander and Libel

  • Definition: False statements that harm someone’s reputation.
  • Elements: False statement, publication, harm to reputation, fault.
  • Case Law: New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (actual malice standard for public figures).

Vicarious Liability

  • Definition: Legal responsibility imposed on one person for the acts of another.
  • Applicable Law: Employers are often vicariously liable for employees’ torts committed within the scope of employment.
  • Case Law: Christensen v. Swenson (scope of employment issue).

Workers’ Compensation

  • New York Specific: An alternative to litigation for employees injured at work, providing benefits irrespective of fault.
  • Applicable Law: New York Workers’ Compensation Law.

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