Virginia Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts


Torts law in Virginia is primarily developed in common law, meaning it is derived from court decisions rather than legislature. Torts are civil wrongs recognized by law as grounds for a lawsuit. They result in injury or harm that constitutes a breach of contract or of a duty imposed by law.

Key cases:
– Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 where the House of Lords established the modern law of negligence. The case established the principle of duty of care.
– Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., where the court established the proximate cause in negligence cases.


Negligence is the failure to take proper care in doing something, resulting in damage or injury to another.

Key Concepts:
– Duty of Care: A legal obligation imposed on an individual requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care.
– Breach of Duty: A failure to uphold that duty of care.
– Causation: The action of causing something.
– Damages: The amount of money the law imposes for a breach of some duty or violation of some right.

Key cases:
– Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co: Established the reasonable person standard for negligence.
– Caparo Industries v Dickman: Established the test for a duty of care.


Intentional torts in Virginia are actions that are intentionally committed against another person with the aim of causing harm.

Key Concepts:
– Assault: An intentional act that creates an apprehension of harmful or offensive contact.
– Battery: The intentional causing of harmful or offensive contact with another.
– False Imprisonment: The intentional act of causing the unlawful confinement of another.
– Trespass: The intentional act of unlawfully entering onto the property of another.
– Conversion: The intentional act of depriving another of their personal property without their consent.

Key cases:
– I de S et ux v W de S: Early English case establishing trespass to land.
– Vosburg v. Putney: Establishing the principle that intent for battery does not need to be harmful.


Virginia’s strict liability law imposes accountability on parties without needing to prove negligence or fault. It is most commonly used in product liability cases.

Key Concepts:
– Abnormally Dangerous Activities: Activities that inherently pose a risk of serious harm, and which cannot be made safe.
– Product Defects: Defects in a product that cause injury to a consumer.

Key cases:
– Rylands v Fletcher: Established the rule for strict liability in abnormally dangerous activities.
– Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc.: Established strict product liability.


In Virginia, damages are monetary compensation awarded to a person who has suffered loss or injury through another’s negligence or unlawful conduct.

Key Concepts:
– Compensatory Damages: Intended to compensate the injured party for harm suffered.
– Punitive Damages: Intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter future misconduct.

Key cases:
– BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore: Supreme Court case setting limits on punitive damages.


In Virginia, defendants can raise several defenses to tort claims, including contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and immunity.

Key Concepts:
– Contributory Negligence: If a person’s own negligence played a part in causing the person’s injury, the individual may not be able to claim damages.
– Assumption of Risk: The plaintiff knew of the risk and voluntarily assumed it.

Key cases:
– Butterfield v. Forrester: Early case establishing contributory negligence.
– Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co.: Established the assumption of risk defense.

Remember, the key to understanding any torts case is to break it down using the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) method. This approach is a comprehensive and systematic way to digest complicated information and present it in a structured format. The IRAC method will not only help you understand your torts cases, but also prepare you for your exam questions.

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