Torts 1.1 – Introduction to Torts
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Introduction to Torts

Intro to the Concept of “Tort Law”

Hello, and welcome to Tort Law. Most students come into Torts having no idea what a tort is. They've heard of chocolate tortes and apple tortes. Unfortunately, this is not the law of cakes.

Tort Law comes from the Latin root "tortum"-- something twisted, wrong, or crooked. So basically, something has gone wrong, and the party that suffered the wrong seeks redress. And usually that redress will take the form of money damages.

Tort Law Is Civil Law

This is a type of civil law, not criminal law. So it's between private parties. It's not between the state and a defendant. At the end of a tort case, no one goes to jail. At most, the defendant is going to pay a sum of money to the plaintiff.

Tort Law Is Common Law

It's also common law, not statutory law. And what that means is it evolves case by case. It's made by judges. It's not made by the legislature. So it's very different from many other areas of law that you'll encounter in law school, like Labor Law and Employment Law, which are governed by statute. In Labor Law, Congress has said the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. It's set a hard and fast rule. The judge doesn't get to decide what the minimum wage is. In Tort Law, Congress and state legislatures have said very little. And, for the most part, judges and juries are deciding how much a defendant pays a plaintiff in a particular case, if they pay anything at all.

Tort Law Is Mostly State Law

This is mostly state law, not federal law, which will also differ from some other areas of law that you'll encounter in law school. So, Maryland has rules that are quite different from the rules across the border in Delaware. Because Tort Law is state-based, because it's always evolving, there are relatively few hard and fast rules. There's no Supreme Court of torts. There's no official Tort Code. There's no authority that gives final answers to everything. You'll find that both frustrating and fascinating. It's frustrating because sometimes you just want to know what the rule is. And the reality is, there is no rule. There is no one answer to the question with which you're grappling. It's fascinating because you'll see judges and juries across the country, across periods of time, faced with similar cases, often reaching vastly different results. And you'll get to argue about which of those results you think is right. And there's no one right answer.

Two Branches of Tort Law: Intentional and Unintentional

There are two branches of Tort Law: Intentional Torts and Unintentional Torts. And we're gonna talk about both of them.

Intentional Torts--the two big ones are Battery and Trespass.

So, battery is the intentional touching of the person of another, causing harm or offense without consent. I don't expect you to remember that definition right now. For battery, you can think of the canonical case of battery as one person kicking another.

Trespass is intentional entry upon the land of another without consent. Again, we're going to unpack those terms. For now, you can think of the canonical case of trespass as walking across someone else's property without their permission, or breaking into someone else's house.

The big unintentional tort is Negligence. And the definition of negligence is the breach of a duty of care causing damages. Again, we're going to drill down into each of those terms. For now, think of negligence as carelessness. Negligence cases are often going to involve car accidents, or medical malpractice, or products that have malfunctioned-- toasters that have burst into flames.

First, we're going to dive into intentional torts, and then we're going to move on to unintentional torts.


I. Basic Features of Tort Law

A. Addresses Wrongs

  • Latin Root “tortum” (something twisted, wrong, or crooked).
  • The party that suffered a wrong seeks redress, usually in the form of money damages.

B. Civil Law (not Criminal Law)

  • Between private parties (rather than between the state and a defendant).
  • At most, the outcome is that the defendant pays money to plaintiff (not jail).

C. Common Law (not Statutory Law)

  • Evolves case by case.
  • Made by judges (rather than by Congress or state legislatures).

D. State Law (not Federal Law)

  • Rules may vary from state to state.
  • Rules may evolve over time.
  • No hard and fast rules. No Supreme Court of torts or official Tort Code.

II. Two Branches of Tort Law

A. Intentional Torts

i. Battery

  • The intentional touching of the person of another, causing harm or offense, without consent.
  • Example: One person kicking another.

ii. Trespass

  • Intentional entry upon the land of another without consent.
  • Examples: Walking across someone else’s property without their permission, or breaking into someone else’s house.

B. Unintentional Torts

i. Negligence

  • Breach of a duty of care (i.e., carelessness).
  • Examples: Car accidents, medical malpractice, or product malfunctions.

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