Understanding what classes you will encounter in your first year will give you the one-up on the rest of your classmates. You do not need a full, in-depth understanding about what these classes entail, especially since each law school follows a different curriculum. However, it is a good idea to understand an overview of each course so you feel comfortable on your first day and comprehend the context of this subject of law. One of the first classes you encounter as a 1L is Torts.
What is a Tort?
I know you are thinking, “what the heck is a tort?” I said the same thing at my first exposure. A tort is a civil wrong. If you think about criminal law, crimes are wrongs against the “safety of the society.” Your torts course focuses on wrongs against individuals and attempting to seek a remedy for their injuries. Many common torts (such as battery) also have a criminal counterpart.
One of the first topics you address are intentional torts. The concept, in general, is pretty easy: torts that were committed intentionally. However, it does get a little complicated. First, there are two types of “intent.” The first type is when someone does something with a specific purpose. (This is the intent people typically think of when talking about intent). The second type is when someone does something knowing a consequence will occur. This type is a little more complicated because the person has to know with substantial certainty that an event will occur if they act in a particular way. This is a higher level than just knowing; it has to be substantially certain to occur. There are several kinds of intentional torts and each professor decides which ones to focus on in their course. For my class, we discussed battery, assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespass. Intentional torts normally cover the first ⅓ of a 1L Torts class, if you just have one semester of the course.
The next ⅓ of your torts class will focus on the concept of negligence. You may have heard of this topic before. “Don’t be negligent,” “act with due care,” and “do your due diligence” are common phrases that surround this concept. In intentional torts, you focus on the subjective intent of the tortfeasor. However, negligence focuses on an objective standard, meaning what would a reasonable person do in the defendant’s position.
There are four general elements negligence: 1) duty 2) breach 3) causation 4) damages. Everyone has a negative duty to everyone in the world, meaning you have a duty not to unreasonably put others in harm. Affirmative duties are more than a negative duty, meaning you have a duty to keep an individual from harm. There are limited amount of affirmative duties, but one example is the duty of a parent to keep their minor child safe. The element of breach is relatively straightforward: you have a duty and you fail to perform it. Causation is divided into two forms: factual causation and proximate causation. In order to meet the element, you must establish both forms of causation. There are unlimited factual causes to an event, but the proximate, legal cause of an event is trickier to establish. The final element to establish is that the victim was injured as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
The final ⅓ of your torts class will focus on products liability. I know what you’re thinking, these are the cases that require manufacturers to put ridiculous warning labels like “do not use this product indoors or outdoors.” Technically you’re correct. Products liability is divided into three categories: product defects, design defects, and failure to warn. Product defects cases are decided based on a strict liability. This means if the product is defective when it leaves the manufacturer’s hands, then the manufacturer will be held liable. Design defects and failure to warn cases are decided based on an objective/negligence standard. This means that manufacturers will only be held liable if foreseeable risks of harm could have been avoided by reasonable actions.
Work Hard, Stress Less
Torts is a new concept to most 1L students. Many people struggle to grasp every aspect of the course. Things will definitely be challenging at first (especially if it is your first semester!) but as long as you work hard, torts will be second nature to you. If you need help understanding, get tutoring or purchase a supplement in order to fully grasp this difficult subject.
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