Wertheimer | Torts | Fall 2016
Definition of a Tort
Any civil action other than a contract
The Main Question in Every Torts Case
Who will pay the damages, the plaintiff or the defendant?
Basic Principles of a Tort
Compensate the injured party
Prevent self-help such (violence)
Deter future bad conduct
Types of Liability
Absolute – Plaintiff only had to show that the defendant was a cause of the injury and fault was not required. Tort law was founded upon this type of liability.
Example: You took him to the zoo and a lion bit him so you’re liable.
Don’t really use this on exam
Joint and Several – each party is independently liable for the full extent of the injuries stemming from the tortious act. Thus, if a plaintiff wins a money judgment against the parties collectively, the plaintiff may collect the full value of the judgment from any one of them. That party may then seek contribution from the other wrongdoers.
Market Share – When not all defendants are present, statistics are analyzed to apportion the damages each defendant will be liable for based on the amount of risk each one created.
Tort Law Today
98% of cases are settled prior to trial
Tort Reform – Functions to leave the loss on the victim
Jurisdiction – the state the suit will be filed in & the appropriate court for filing the complaint, within the jurisdiction.
Weaver v. Ward – “military exercise case”; Defendant shot plaintiff during a military exercise by accident.
Strict liability adopted – defendant liable because he caused the injury.
Brown v. Kendall – “dog case”; Defendant tries breaking up dog fight, plaintiff stands behind him as he’s whacking the stick and defendant accidentally hits him with the stick.
Two-tier standard of care
If doing something he shouldn’t be doing, the standard of care is “Extraordinary Care”
If doing something he should be doing, the standard of care is “Ordinary Care”
The action was intentional (whacking the stick) but the injury was unintentional (hitting the plaintiff)
Since it’s been determined it wasn’t on purpose, there is only one standard of care, a reasonable person: 1) ordinary care 2) in the circumstances.
Hammontree v. Jenner – “seizure while driving case”; Defendant had epilepsy and took medications and proper precautions but had seizure while driving and crashed into the plaintiff’s store causing damages.
Negligence is the standard for deciding these types of cases
Defendant did not act negligently so no cause of action to sue for
Langan v. Valicopters, Inc. – “Sprayed crops case”; Defendant hired to spray crops and spray drifts onto neighbor’s organic crops, ruining his business.
No liability under negligence because defendant has a right to spray crops
The cost of spraying includes the cost of compensating nearby organic farms for spraying their farm.
Has to pay because was engaged in abnormally dangerous activity
– 3 major factors for determining if activity is abnormally dangerous:
Whether the activity involves a high degree of risk of some harm to the person, land or chattels of others
Whether the gravity of the harm which may result from it is likely to be great
Whether the risk cannot be eliminated by the exercise of reasonable care
Trying to buy farms
Privileges – Necessity
Private – Individual injures a private property interest to protect another private property interest valued as greater than the injured property.
Ploof v. Putnam – Plaintiff and family on sailboat when violent storm hits. They moor to defendant’s dock, he unmoors them, the storm carries them and they are injured and boat damaged.
Privilege of : The value of human life and limb is greater than any possessory interest to prevent trespass.
The defendant trespassed by unmooring the boat and owes damages to them.
Vincent v. Lake Erie Transp. Co – A steamship owned by the defendant was moored to plaintiff’s dock to unload cargo. An extremely violent storm developed and the ship was unable to safely leave the dock so it remained there for several hours; the force of the storm caused them to frequently have to re-moor the ship. The storm caused the ship to damage the dock as it rocked back and forth.
This is the start of the cost/benefit analysis rule
People that benefit from the cost/loss should compensate
No trespass – they were allowed to stay there because damage would have been worse if they would have left than it was to the damage of the dock, however, they have to pay for
Good Samaritan Laws
Yania v. Bigan – “Coal mine trench drowning case”; Defendant asked plaintiff to start the water pump in coal-stripping operation and the plaintiff fell into the trench and drowned.
Defendant had no legal duty to save plaintiff despite a likely moral obligation
Might have been different if he knew the side was unstable and would likely collapse.
Soldano v. O’Daniels – Man notifies Inn employee that a man at a nearby bar had been threatened and asked to call cops/use phone to call. Defendant refused and man died.
“No Big Deal” exception – if the defendant refuses aid that could be easily given, defendant is liable.
Was foreseeable and imminent
Had Vincent been applied, he could have used the phone and probably would just have to pay for the phone call.
Privity: Suits by Third Parties
H.R. Moch Co. v. Rennselaer Water Co. – “Insufficient water supply case”; Defendant had a contract with city, plaintiff’s warehouse burned in a fire because there was not enough water supply to put out the fire.
Defendant had a duty to the city and the contract and duty do not extend to individual citizens – that would be an unfair burden.
A person who owns property must be responsible to take action in case of fire. (Insurance)
Strauss v. Belle Realty Co. – Defendant supplied water to a residential building, power went out and in turn the water supply was shut off, plaintiff was injured when he fell going downstairs to retrieve water. Background: Very popular company who actually did something wrong in a negligent manner that caused the outage.
No liability, it would open the floodgates and create too many causes of action.
Different than DES cases where injuries were consistent; here, no consistency to the types of injuries.
No relationship between tenant and power company.