Wyoming Law School 1L Study Guide for Torts

I. Introduction to Torts

Torts are civil wrongs that lead to legal liability. In this course, you will explore the rules and principles governing tort liability.

II. Intentional Torts

Intentional torts occur when a person knowingly causes harm. This can include assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, trespass to land, and trespass to chattel.

Key case: Vosburg v. Putney (1891)
Issue: Whether intent to harm is necessary for battery.
Rule: Intent for battery is fulfilled even when there’s no intent to harm, provided there’s intent to cause a contact that’s offensive or harmful.
Application: The defendant intended to kick plaintiff, even without intent to harm him, thus fulfilling the intent for battery.
Conclusion: The defendant was held liable for battery.

III. Negligence

Negligence is a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.

Key case: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co (1928)
Issue: Whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
Rule: A defendant owes a duty only to foreseeable plaintiffs.
Application: The railroad company could not foresee that its actions would harm the plaintiff, so no duty of care was owed.
Conclusion: The court ruled in favor of the defendant.

IV. Strict Liability

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds a party responsible for their actions or products that cause damages, regardless of any negligence or fault on their part.

Key case: Rylands v Fletcher (1868)
Issue: Whether the defendant was liable for damages caused by a non-natural use of the land.
Rule: A person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.
Application: The defendant’s use of the land was non-natural, and he failed to prevent coal waste from escaping and damaging the plaintiff’s mines.
Conclusion: The defendant was held liable.

V. Defamation

Defamation involves a false statement about someone that harms their reputation. In Wyoming, the plaintiff must prove the statement was false, defamatory, communicated to a third party, a matter of public concern, and that the defendant was at fault in publishing it.

Key case: New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964)
Issue: Whether the advertisement published by the New York Times was defamatory.
Rule: A public official seeking to recover in a libel action must prove that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’ – that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.
Application: The plaintiff failed to prove that the statements were made with actual malice.
Conclusion: The Court ruled in favor of the New York Times Co.

VI. Product Liability

Product liability refers to a manufacturer or seller being held liable for placing a defective product into the hands of a consumer.

Key case: Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963)
Issue: Whether a manufacturer is strictly liable for defects in its products.
Rule: A manufacturer is strictly liable in tort when an article he places in the market, knowing that it is to be used without new tests for defects, proves to have a defect that causes injury to a human being.
Application: The defendant placed a defective product in the market, which directly caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Conclusion: The defendant was held strictly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

VII. Nuisance

Nuisance involves a substantial and unreasonable interference with someone’s use or enjoyment of their land.

Key case: Boomer v. Atlantic Cement Co. (1972)
Issue: Whether the defendant’s cement plant was a nuisance.
Rule: A nuisance may be found where a significant harm results from the defendant’s unreasonable interference with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of property.
Application: The cement dust and vibrations from the defendant’s plant unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of his property.
Conclusion: The defendant’s operation was found to be a nuisance.

VIII. Damages

Damages refer to the sum of money the law imposes for a breach of duty or violation of some right. It’s categorized into Compensatory Damages, Punitive Damages, and Nominal Damages.

Key case: BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore (1996)
Issue: Whether the punitive damages awarded are excessive.
Rule: Punitive damages must bear a reasonable relationship to compensatory damages.
Application: The punitive damages were 500 times more than the actual harm, which was found excessive.
Conclusion: The Supreme Court reversed the judgment, reducing the punitive damages.

IX. Tort Defenses

Defenses to tort claims can include consent, self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, necessity, assumption of risk, and contributory negligence.

Key case: Katko v. Briney (1971)
Issue: Whether the defendant’s booby trap in defense of property was justified.
Rule: Deadly force cannot be used to protect personal property.
Application: The defendant used deadly force (a shotgun) to protect an uninhabited property.
Conclusion: The defendant’s use of force was unjustified, and he was held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

This guide provides a broad overview of tort law as taught in most 1L courses. However, the specifics of each topic should be studied in depth, and the importance of understanding the application of these laws within the context of Wyoming law cannot be overstated.

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