The principles of tort law pervade modern society because they spell out the duties of care that we owe each other in our private lives. Tort law has had a significant impact on business because modern technology poses significant dangers and the modern market is so efficient at distributing goods to a wide class of consumers.
Unlike criminal law, tort law does not require the tortfeasor to have a specific intent to commit the act for which he or she will be held liable to pay damages. Negligence—that is, carelessness—is a major factor in tort liability. In some instances, especially in cases involving injuries caused by products, a no-fault standard called strict liability is applied.
What constitutes a legal injury depends very much on the circumstances. A person can assume a risk or consent to the particular action, thus relieving the person doing the injury from tort liability. To be liable, the tortfeasor must be the proximate cause of the injury, not a remote cause. On the other hand, certain people are held to answer for the torts of another—for example, an employer is usually liable for the torts of his employees, and a bartender might be liable for injuries caused by someone to whom he sold too many drinks. Two types of statutes—workers’ compensation and no-fault automobile insurance—have eliminated tort liability for certain kinds of accidents and replaced it with an immediate insurance payment plan.
Among the torts of particular importance to the business community are wrongful death and personal injury caused by products or acts of employees, misrepresentation, defamation, and interference with contractual relations.
- What is the difference in objectives between tort law and criminal law?
- A woman fell ill in a store. An employee put the woman in an infirmary but provided no medical care for six hours, and she died. The woman’s family sued the store for wrongful death. What arguments could the store make that it was not liable? What arguments could the family make? Which seem the stronger arguments? Why?
- The signals on a railroad crossing are defective. Although the railroad company was notified of the problem a month earlier, the railroad inspector has failed to come by and repair them. Seeing the all-clear signal, a car drives up and stalls on the tracks as a train rounds the bend. For the past two weeks the car had been stalling, and the driver kept putting off taking the car to the shop for a tune-up. As the train rounds the bend, the engineer is distracted by a conductor and does not see the car until it is too late to stop. Who is negligent? Who must bear the liability for the damage to the car and to the train?
- Suppose in the Katko v. Briney case (Section 7.2 “Intentional Torts”) that instead of setting such a device, the defendants had simply let the floor immediately inside the front door rot until it was so weak that anybody who came in and took two steps straight ahead would fall through the floor and to the cellar. Will the defendant be liable in this case? What if they invited a realtor to appraise the place and did not warn her of the floor? Does it matter whether the injured person is a trespasser or an invitee?
- Plaintiff’s husband died in an accident, leaving her with several children and no money except a valid insurance policy by which she was entitled to $5,000. Insurance Company refused to pay, delaying and refusing payment and meanwhile “inviting” Plaintiff to accept less than $5,000, hinting that it had a defense. Plaintiff was reduced to accepting housing and charity from relatives. She sued the insurance company for bad-faith refusal to settle the claim and for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lower court dismissed the case. Should the court of appeals allow the matter to proceed to trial?
SELF CHECK QUESTIONS
- Catarina falsely accuses Jeff of stealing from their employer. The statement is defamatory only if
- a third party hears it
- Nick suffers severe emotional distress as a result
- the statement is the actual and proximate cause of his distress
- the statement is widely circulated in the local media and on Twitter
- Garrett files a suit against Colossal Media Corporation for defamation. Colossal has said that Garrett is a “sleazy, corrupt public official” (and provided some evidence to back the claim). To win his case, Garrett will have to show that Colossal acted with
- ill will
- malice aforethought
- actual malice
- Big Burger begins a rumor, using social media, that the meat in Burger World is partly composed of ground-up worms. The rumor is not true, as Big Burger well knows. Its intent is to get some customers to shift loyalty from Burger World to Big Burger. Burger World’s best cause of action would be
- trespass on the case
- product disparagement
- intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Wilfred Phelps, age 65, is driving his Nissan Altima down Main Street when he suffers the first seizure of his life. He loses control of his vehicle and runs into three people on the sidewalk. Which statement is true?
- He is liable for an intentional tort.
- He is liable for a negligent tort.
- He is not liable for a negligent tort.
- He is liable under strict liability, because driving a car is abnormally dangerous.
- Jonathan carelessly bumps into Amanda, knocking her to the ground. He has committed the tort of negligence
- only if Amanda is injured
- only if Amanda is not injured
- whether or not Amanda is injured