Rhode Island Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

I. Introduction

Torts law is a vast legal field that involves civil wrongs that cause harm or loss, resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. In this study guide, we will review key concepts, case laws, and applicable laws in Rhode Island.

II. Intentional Torts

A. Battery
Battery is an intentional and offensive or harmful touching of another person without their consent.
Case: White v. University of Rhode Island (784 A.2d 825 (R.I., 2001)): In this case, the use of the IRAC method would look like this:
Issue: Whether the university committed battery by mandating a flu vaccine for a student.
Rule: An act intending to cause harmful or offensive bodily contact is battery.
Application: The court found that the University did not commit battery as the student voluntarily consented.
Conclusion: No battery occurred.

B. Assault
Assault happens when one person acts intentionally, causing another person to fear an imminent battery.
Case: State v. Rathbun (632 A.2d 282 (R.I., 1993)):
Issue: Whether defendant’s threatening gesture amounted to assault.
Rule: Assault requires the plaintiff to be in fear of imminent harmful contact.
Application: The court ruled that the defendant’s act did constitute assault.
Conclusion: The defendant was found guilty of assault.

III. Negligence

Negligence is the failure to provide the care that a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances.

A. Duty
A legal obligation to ensure the safety or well-being of others.
Case: Banks v. Bowen’s Landing Corporation (522 A.2d 1222 (R.I., 1987)):
Issue: Whether the defendant had a duty of care towards the plaintiff.
Rule: There is a duty when the defendant’s conduct creates a foreseeable risk of injury.
Application: The defendant was found to have a duty of care as harm to the plaintiff was foreseeable.
Conclusion: The defendant was found to have a duty of care.

B. Breach
Breach occurs when one person or company has a duty of care toward another person or company, but fails to live up to that standard.
Case: Berard v. HCP, Inc. (64 A.3d 1215 (R.I., 2013)):
Issue: Whether the nursing home’s failure to supervise a patient constituted a breach of duty.
Rule: A breach occurs when the standard of care is not met.
Application: The court held that the nursing home breached its duty by failing to supervise the patient.
Conclusion: The nursing home was found in breach of duty.

C. Causation & Damages
Causation is the relationship between the plaintiff’s harm and the defendant’s conduct. Damages are the harm suffered by the plaintiff.
Case: Calise v. Hidden Valley Condo. Ass’n, Inc. (773 A.2d 834 (R.I., 2001)):
Issue: Whether the defendant’s conduct was the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and if the plaintiff suffered damages.
Rule: The conduct is a cause if the injury would not have occurred without it. Damages are proven by showing harm.
Application: The court found that the defendant’s conduct was the actual cause of injury and the plaintiff did suffer damages.
Conclusion: The defendant was found liable for the plaintiff’s injury and damages.

IV. Defenses to Torts

A. Consent
The defendant may argue that the plaintiff consented to the act, eliminating the liability.
Case: Boucher v. Dixie Medical Center (850 A.2d 1142 (R.I., 2004)):
Issue: Whether the plaintiff consented to the medical procedure.
Rule: Consent negates liability.
Application: Court found that the plaintiff had given informed consent.
Conclusion: The defendant was not liable.

B. Comparative Negligence
Rhode Island follows a pure comparative negligence system. The plaintiff’s damages are reduced by his or her percentage of fault.
Case: Kennedy v. Providence Hockey Club, Inc. (119 R.I. 70 (1978)):
Issue: Whether the plaintiff’s own negligence reduced his recovery.
Rule: In Rhode Island, a plaintiff can recover even if he is 99% at fault.
Application: The court applied the rule of pure comparative negligence.
Conclusion: The plaintiff’s recovery was reduced by his percentage of fault.

Summarizing, Rhode Island tort law encompasses a broad range of intentional torts, negligence, and defenses. Understanding the fundamental concepts and case laws is essential for success in a 1L Torts class.

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