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Torts Problem Set
Intentional Torts

One issue posed by intentional torts is that intent is necessary, but that does not always meant that an intent to injure the plaintiff is necessary. Let us assume that the plaintiff (P) suffers a dislocated shoulder. This injury could have arisen in several different ways, only some of which are torts. In the following fact patterns, discuss the potential torts and the significance of the defendant's (D) intent in each situation.

What's Your Intent?

a) P is having a drink in a crowded country and western bar. While reaching for the jalapeno flavored peanuts, he spills his drink on D. D is a large and desperate character. Infuriated that P has spilled a tequila sunrise (a sissy drink that stains) on his best stonewashed authentic cowboy jeans, he grabs P's arm and jerks him out of his chair. Plaintiff suffers a dislocated shoulder.

b) Assume the same facts as above, but rather than grabbing P's arm, D throws over the table and lunges at P. P retreats before D catches him, but in the process of leaping the bar, he suffers a dislocated shoulder.

c) P is riding on a crowded bus. He has no place to sit, but instead is holding onto one of the overhead straps. D is standing next to P, also holding onto a strap. Suddenly a car skids into the path of the bus. The driver reacts instinctively, slamming on the brakes and swerving around the oncoming car. The bus narrowly avoids the collision. As the bus lurches back into its lane, D is thrown from his hold and crashes into P. P's hand catches on the strap and the force of D's fall dislocates P's shoulder.

d) P is hiking along a well traveled mountain trail. Suddenly he loses his balance and begins to slide down the mountain. D rushes to his aid. Grabbing P's arm, D breaks his fall. Unfortunately, P's arm is dislocated in the process.

e) P is hiking in the mountains. D is cutting trees a few hundred feet higher, but directly above P. As a prank, D rolls a small rock toward P. The rock gains momentum and soon dislodges other rocks. The falling rocks trip P. As he clamors for a handhold, he dislocates his shoulder.

f) D is cruising the streets in his big black Cadillac. P's pit bulldog runs into street and begins to bark at the approaching car. Seizing his opportunity, D drives directly at the dog. P, horrified, runs into the street to save the dog. He grabs the dog, but it is too late. The dog is flattened. The momentum of the car drags the carcass from P's hands. Clutching at the last remains of his beloved dog, P's dislocates his shoulder.

g) Awakened once too often by the barking of his neighbor's dog, D angrily opens his second story bedroom window and looks to see why the dog is barking. Seeing a figure stealthy approaching the dog, D assumes that it is P trying to quiet the dog. Summoning all his strength, D hurls Black's Law Dictionary out the window. Intending to clobber both dog and owner, he is disappointed when only the figure is downed. Hoping for another shot, he grabs a property book and rushes downstairs. As he reaches the backyard fence, he is dismayed to discover that it was not the dog's owner who he had downed, but a thief attempting to murder the dog. Remorseful at having dislocated the thief's arm (thus interfering with the planned dog murder), he drives the thief home.

False imprisonment and intentional infliction of mental distress often arise from the same fact patterns. Intentional infliction of mental distress is a problematic tort because mental distress is frequently a damage element in other torts. For this reason, the required elements for the tort are very strict.

Discuss these torts as they might be found in the following hypotheticals:

a) A torts professor is frantically preparing his problem set for class. A group of students bars his office door, hoping to save themselves from the problem set. The door remains barred for three hours, but the harried professor never tries to leave. Shortly before class the janitor notices the bar and removes it. The professor proceeds to class without knowing that he had been a prisoner all afternoon.

b) P is working at a bank. D, the bank security guard, believes P has stolen some money. When P goes into the bank's storeroom, D locks the door from the outside. D holds P for several hours before the bank manager returns from his golf lesson. During this time P repeatedly asks to be released.

c) Assume the same facts as the problem above. After imploring D to release him, P tries to climb out the open window. The building is on the 2nd floor. P falls, dislocating his shoulder.

d) Assuming the same facts, Plaintiff discovers a back door and goes home. When D opens the storeroom, P is gone.

e) P is claustrophobic. Knowing this, D assigns her to a very small office with no window. Defendant has other offices available. He does not like P and hopes that she will quit.

f) D kidnaps P's 14 year old son. After locking the boy in a closet, D calls P and demands a ransom. Otherwise, "You will never see Red Chief again!".

g) (Same facts as above.) Family thanks kidnappers for taking Red Chief off their hands, says they are going on a week's vacation. Family returns one week later, refuses to accept return of Red Chief. D pays family ransom and they agree to allow Red Chief to return. When the child is released, he is not injured and seems to have enjoyed the excitement.

h) On the first day of class, a torts professor calls on a student and demands a detailed recitation on the facts of every case in the pre-school reading assignment. When the student is unable to answer, the professor tells the student to call home and tell his mother that he will never be a lawyer.

i) The assistant dean for student coddling asks the torts professor to go easy on student P because P's brother just committed suicide over a bad grade report at Big City Law School. The professor, believing that lawyers must be tough, calls on P and asks her to recite on a brutal case where a sibling witnesses a runaway car kill her brother. When P declines to recite, the professor reminds her of his Draconian class participation policy.

j) Student P, frightened that she will not get a good grade in torts, and thus will never be a BMW driving partner in Sullivan and Cromwell, attempts to recite on the case. Unfortunately, when she gets to the crucial fact that the victim's head "split like a melon" and spattered the bystanders, she faints, striking her head on the desk behind her and suffering severe brain damage.

Defense of Property Issues

Your client was injured by a booby trap while stealing from an uninhabited house. Can he sue and why?

Same facts as above, but the homeowner was asleep in the back bedroom when your client was injured. The homeowner never knew your client was in the house. What are the homeowner's defenses to a battery claim?

Home owner wakes after hearing a noise. She yells out, "Is someone there?" The burglar hears her, grabs her TV, and runs from the house. The homeowner gets her gun and investigates the noise. She sees the burglar running away with the TV. He is two houses away down the street, but she takes a shot anyway and hits him. What are her defenses to a battery claim and what are the plaintiff's rebuttals?


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