Negligence: The Standard of Reasonable Care | Pam Karlan | December 04, 2014


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Negligence: The Standard of Reasonable Care

Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Pam Karlan Show/Hide

We now shift gears away from intentional wrongdoing and its defenses and toward what many consider to be the heart of tort law, both in volume of cases (and damages) and in conceptual challenge: negligence. Under what circumstances should someone’s actions be deemed careless enough to warrant damages, while falling short of the level of riskiness (or even certainty of harm) associated with intentional tort? At the core of negligence is a deceptively simple-sounding standard: act reasonably.

Negligence law naturally draws in a group of defendants rarely seen in intentional tort: corporations. Can a standard of reasonableness be as intuitively grasped by a jury for judgment of a firm’s behavior as for a person’s actions? How much of the application of that standard should be left to a jury, and how much to a judge, who can decide whether a fact pattern – even one most sympathetic to a plaintiff – merits a jury’s look at all?

The cases in these sections look at how the law conceives of a negligence standard by examining cases in which judges had to decide whether a jury should hear the case – or, if they heard it, whether they applied the standard correctly. Included is a case famed among legal scholars but typically unknown to senior practitioners: U.S. v. Carroll Towing. Carroll Towing introduces a formula by which one judge thought negligence might be further fleshed out – “unreasonable” behavior unpacked. How helpful is Judge Hand’s formula of b<pl? When, if ever, should a jury be exposed to it? Are there elements of unreasonable behavior not always captured by those three variables?


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    1. 1.1 Show/Hide More Topps v. Ferraro-- "The Punch at the Party"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      How should courts weigh wrongful acts in determining intent?
    1. 2.1 Show/Hide More Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Krayenbuhl--"The Foot-Severing Turntable"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      When ruling on negligence, should courts consider factors unrelated to the potential harm of an activity (such as the activity’s usefulness to society)?
    2. 2.2 Show/Hide More Greene v. Sibley--"The Kneeling Mechanic"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      Should we consider actors to be negligent if they fail to take precautions that require little effort, and would have mitigated the risk of harm?
    3. 2.3 Show/Hide More United States v. Carroll Towing Co., Inc.--"The Learned Hand Formula Case"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      Should we attempt to reduce the standard of reasonable care into forms that seem more empirical—like an algebraic formula?
    4. 2.4 Show/Hide More Adams v. Bullock--"The Trolley Wire Under the Bridge"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      Should reasonable care protect against all conceivable harm, no matter how unlikely?
    1. 3.1 Show/Hide More Pokora v. Wabash Railway Co.--"The Driver Who Failed to Step Out and Look Around"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      Should judges impose strict rules defining reasonable conduct in dangerous or unusual situations or should they defer to the jury?
    2. 3.2 Show/Hide More Andrews v. United Airlines, Inc.--"The Baggage May Have Shifted During Flight Case"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      When should judges determine reasonable care at summary judgment and when should they defer to juries?
    3. 3.3 Show/Hide More Akins v. Glen Falls--"The Blinding Foul Ball"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain
      What level of guidance may a judge give the jury with respect to reasonable care?

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December 04, 2014

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Pam Karlan

Professor of Law

Stanford Law School

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