What’s a tort? It’s a wrong that a court is prepared to recognize, usually in the form of ordering the transfer of money (“damages”) from the wrongdoer to the wronged. The court is usually alerted to wrong by the filing of a lawsuit by a private citizen alleging harm: anyone can walk through the courthouse doors and, subject to the limits explored in civil procedure, call someone else (or, if a company, something) to account. The first section of our course deals with that group of torts known as “intentional.” We’ll review the spectrum of intent that marks the sometimes-fuzzy boundaries among wrongs that are done intentionally, those done merely “negligently,” and others in between, and also have a chance to think about what kinds of damages should be on the table once a wrong is established. What happens when an act that’s only a little bit wrongful, even while intentional, results in unexpectedly large harm? We’ll also discuss the sources that courts turn to in order to answer such questions. Rarely, in tort cases, are those sources the ones laypeople expect: statutes passed by legislatures. Without statutes to guide them, what are courts left with?
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Should defendants be liable for unforeseeable injuries?
Notes: The plaintiff and defendant are schoolmates. Plaintiff kicked the defendant's leg in a classroom, during school hours. After the kick, the defendant's leg—which had nearly recovered from a prior injury—became inflamed. The plaintiff was likely unaware of the defendant's previous injury, and therefore unable to foresee the extraordinary harm the kick would inflict.
Should damages for battery encompass indignities as well as physical injuries? Should juries be able to assign extra damages for particularly malicious or bad-natured conduct?
Notes: Defendant spat in plaintiff's face at the close of an earlier trial, in front of a large number of people. Plaintiff was awarded $1,000 ($17,980.86 in 2010 dollars). Defendant appeals the verdict as excessive.
Should intentional contact with an object attached to the plaintiff constitute battery? For the tort of assault, should we consider if defendant intended to cause apprehension in the plaintiff?
Notes: Plaintiff received contradictory results from safety inspections conducted by defendant and another automobile service provider. When plaintiff attempted to photograph the defendant for a local news “troubleshooter” report, defendant touched the camera and protested the picture-taking.
Should defendants be liable if they knowingly expose the plaintiff to a near certainty of harmful contact? If so, should liability still be assigned even if the defendant did not act for the purpose of hurting the plaintiff?
Notes: As plaintiff prepared to sit, defendant—a five-year-old boy—pulled out the chair from beneath her. Plaintiff fell and fractured her hip. Defendant argued that he had no intent to hurt the plaintiff nor cause her to fall, and that he took the chair to seat himself on it and for no other purpose.
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