Vermont Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

1. Introduction and Overview

Torts law governs cases where a party’s action or inaction causes harm or loss to another party. This study guide will focus on the fundamental principles and concepts of torts law, including negligence, intentional torts, and strict liability, as well as the defenses to these torts. Vermont torts law will be a particular focus.

2. Negligence

Negligence is a tort that occurs when someone fails to exercise the care a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances, thereby causing harm to another. Four elements must be proven in a negligence claim: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

Case Law: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co.

Issue: Whether a duty was owed to the plaintiff.

Rule: A defendant owes a duty to a plaintiff if the plaintiff is within the zone of foreseeable harm.

Application: The railroad guards could not have reasonably foreseen that pushing a passenger with a package would cause injury to a woman standing some distance away.

Conclusion: The guard did not owe a duty to the plaintiff, hence there was no negligence.

3. Intentional Torts

Intentional torts occur when a person intentionally causes harm or loss to another. Examples include assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass, conversion, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Case Law: Garratt v. Dailey

Issue: Whether a 5-year-old boy could be held liable for battery.

Rule: For an act to be intentional, the actor must have an intent to bring about a harmful or offensive contact or an apprehension of such contact.

Application: Brian Dailey moved the chair knowing that Garratt would attempt to sit down on it.

Conclusion: Dailey committed battery.

4. Strict Liability

Strict liability is a tort that holds a defendant liable for harm without proof of negligence or intent to harm. It primarily applies to cases involving abnormally dangerous activities, wild animals, and defective products.

Case Law: Rylands v. Fletcher

Issue: Is a person who brings something potentially dangerous onto his land liable for damage it causes?

Rule: A person who keeps something potentially harmful on his property may be strictly liable for harm caused by it if it escapes.

Application: Fletcher’s mines were flooded when Rylands’ reservoir burst.

Conclusion: Rylands was held strictly liable.

5. Defenses to Torts

There are several defenses to torts, including consent, self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, necessity, and immunity doctrines.

Case Law: Katko v. Briney

Issue: Can an owner set a deadly trap to protect an unoccupied property?

Rule: The use of deadly force to protect property is not justified unless a threat to human life or serious bodily harm is present.

Application: Briney set a shotgun trap in an unoccupied farmhouse that severely injured Katko.

Conclusion: The court found in favor of Katko.

6. Damages

In torts law, damages are the monetary compensation awarded to the injured party. There are several types of damages including compensatory damages, punitive damages, nominal damages, and restitutionary damages.

Case Law: BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore

Issue: Whether the $2 million punitive damages award was grossly excessive.

Rule: The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits grossly excessive punitive damages awards.

Application: The court found the punitive damages award of $2 million grossly excessive in relation to the harm done to Gore.

Conclusion: The court reduced the punitive damages to $50,000.

Throughout this course, remember to apply Vermont-specific laws and regulations when analyzing case facts. Understanding the elements of torts, case precedent, and the relevant defenses will be key to doing well in your final semester exam.

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