Title: 1L Study Guide for Torts – University of Wisconsin Law School
I. Introduction to Torts
Torts are civil wrongs recognized by law as grounds for a lawsuit. These wrongs result in an injury or harm constituting the basis for a claim by the injured party. While some torts are also crimes punishable with imprisonment, the primary aim of tort law is to provide relief for the damages incurred and deter others from committing similar harms.
Negligence is the most common tort, covering a broad spectrum of situations causing injury or harm that could have been prevented. It focuses on careless or unintentional wrongs that harm others.
A. Duty – A person owes others a duty to act as a reasonable person would under the same or similar circumstances.
B. Breach – A person breaches that duty through an act or omission causing harm.
C. Causation – There must be a causal connection between the person’s conduct and the end harm.
D. Damages – The injured party must have incurred some damages (physical, emotional, or economic).
Key Case: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (1928))
This case established the concept of foreseeability in the tort of negligence.
– Issue: Whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff
– Rule: A defendant can only be held liable for negligence if it can be proven that the defendant could foresee their actions causing harm to the plaintiff.
– Analysis: Mrs. Palsgraf was injured by an explosion that was caused by an unsecured package dropped by railway workers. The court decided that while the railway workers might have been negligent towards the package owner, they had no way of knowing their actions would harm Palsgraf.
– Conclusion: The court ruled in favor of the defendant, stating the harm to the plaintiff was not a foreseeable result of the defendant’s negligence.
III. Intentional Torts
Intentional torts are civil wrongs that are committed deliberately. The person committing the tort intends to bring about a certain result, which leads to an injury to another person.
A. Assault: Intentionally causing apprehension of harmful or offensive contact.
B. Battery: Intentionally causing harmful or offensive contact to another.
C. False imprisonment: Intentionally causing the confinement of another person without lawful privilege.
Key Case: Fisher v. Carrousel Motor Hotel, Inc. (424 S.W.2d 627 (Tex. 1967))
This case established that an intentional tort can occur even without physical contact.
– Issue: Whether assault can occur without physical contact
– Rule: Assault can occur with offensive contact to a plaintiff’s person or anything closely connected with the plaintiff’s body.
– Analysis: Fisher was dining at the Carrousel Motor Hotel when an employee grabbed his plate and shouted racial slurs. The court held that the plaintiff was assaulted because the plate, while not a part of his body, was in his immediate possession and control.
– Conclusion: The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, setting a precedent for assault without physical contact.
IV. Strict Liability
Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds a party responsible for their actions or products that cause damages regardless of fault or intent.
Key Case: Rylands v. Fletcher ( UKHL 1)
This case established the doctrine of strict liability in tort law.
– Issue: Whether the defendant was responsible for the damage caused by his reservoir, even if he was not negligent.
– Rule: A person who brings onto his land and collects and keeps anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, is strictly liable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.
– Analysis: Fletcher’s mines were flooded by water from Rylands’ reservoir. The court held that Rylands was liable for the damage, even though he had not been negligent in the construction or maintenance of the reservoir.
– Conclusion: The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, establishing the principle of strict liability.
V. Defenses to Torts
Common defenses to torts include consent, self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, necessity, and assumption of risk.
VI. Damages in Tort Law
Damages in tort law are primarily compensatory, designed to restore the injured party to the position they were in before the tort occurred. Punitive damages are also available in some cases to punish particularly egregious conduct.
VII. Wisconsin’s Comparative Negligence Rule
Wisconsin follows a modified comparative negligence rule, which reduces a plaintiff’s recovery based on their degree of fault but bars recovery if the plaintiff’s fault is greater than the combined negligence of all defendants in the case.
The Wisconsin courts have interpreted this rule to apply not only to negligence cases but also to some cases involving strict liability. (Wis. Stat. § 895.045)
This guide provides an overview of the major concepts in tort law, including negligence, intentional torts, strict liability, defenses, and damages. It also includes notable cases and specific rules applicable in Wisconsin. However, it is important to supplement this guide with class notes, textbooks, and other resources to fully understand the nuances and complexities of tort law.