Intro to law
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Intro to law. Criminal vs . civil. Criminal Actions. A crime is an offense against society—a public wrong. Examples of criminal actions:. Embezzlement Larceny Perjury. Assault Battery Murder Rape Disorderly Conduct. Civil Actions.

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Intro to law

Intro to law

Criminal vs. civil

Criminal actions

Criminal Actions

  • A crime is an offense against society—a public wrong.

    • Examples of criminal actions:

  • Embezzlement

  • Larceny

  • Perjury

  • Assault

  • Battery

  • Murder

  • Rape

  • Disorderly Conduct

Civil actions

Civil Actions

  • A civil action is an offense against an individual

    • An argument between people or between people and a business

    • Examples of civil actions:

  • Contract Violation

  • Fraud

  • False imprisonment

  • Defamation

  • Invasion of privacy

  • Liability/Negligence

How are civil and criminal actions different

How are Civil and Criminal Actions Different?

  • Civil Actions

    • Brought by private citizens

    • Person bringing action is known as the plaintiff

    • Plaintiff has the burden of proof

    • Proven liable with a preponderance of the evidence

    • Defendant loses if found liable

    • Usual penalty is money damages

  • Criminal Actions

    • Brought by the government

    • Government is known as the prosecution

    • Prosecution has the burden of proof

    • Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

    • Defendant loses if found guilty

    • Usual penalty is a prison sentence



  • Tort law deals with situations where a person's behavior has unfairly caused someone else to suffer loss or harm

  • A tort is not necessarily an illegal act but causes harm and therefore the law allows anyone who is harmed to recover their loss

  • a wrongful act that results in injury to another's person, property, or reputation and for which the injured party is entitled to compensation

What can a tort victim collect


  • An injunction (court order) may be issued to prevent a tort - preventative

  • The usual remedy for a tort is damages

  • Lawyers handle civil lawsuits for a percentage of the recovery

    • 25% if settled before trial

    • 33% if trial

    • 40% if appeal



  • Negligence is the most common tort

  • Negligence can be defined as a failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.

  • Intent is not required, only carelessness

How to prove negligence

How to Prove Negligence

  • The plaintiff needs to prove four elements by a preponderance of the evidence

    • Duty

    • Breach of Duty

    • Causation (two parts)

    • Damages

Intro to law


  • A legal obligation to do or not do something

  • Example: If you drive a car, you have a duty to obey the rules of the road

  • The duty of care

    The Duty of Care

    • The defendant had a legal duty or legal obligation to exercise due care to the plaintiff.

      • Due care is the amount of care that a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances.

    The reasonable person

    The Reasonable Person

    • A reasonable person would consider

      • (1) the burden of taking precautions;

      • (2) the likelihood of harm; and

      • (3) the seriousness of the harm.

    • Example: Would a reasonable person drive down the street with a paper grocery bag over her head?

    Circumstances matter

    Circumstances Matter

    • Circumstances are taken into consideration when evaluating a defendant’s actions

    • Acceptable characteristics that contribute to the reasonable person:

      • Physical disabilities

      • If defendant is a child, the child’s age (unless doing an “adult activity” such as driving a car)

      • Defendant acted during an emergency

    • Unacceptable characteristics that do not contribute to the reasonable person

      • Mental characteristics (e.g. if defendant is of below average intelligence, he can’t defend his actions based on this)

      • Intoxication

    Breach of duty

    Breach of Duty

    • Violation of the duty

    • The defendant’s conduct violated that duty because:

      • His or her conduct fell short of the standard of care.

      • Or, in other words, he or she did not act like a reasonable person would have.

    Problem 1 duty and breach

    Problem #1: Duty and Breach

    Itchy comes to an uncontrolled intersection (i.e. no traffic lights or signs) on foot. He stops at the intersection, looks both ways and then crosses the streetQuestions:

    • Did Itchy act like a reasonable person?

    • Did Itchy’s actions breach a duty?

    Problem 2 duty and breach

    Problem #2: Duty and Breach

    Scratchy comes to an uncontrolled intersection (i.e. no traffic lights or signs) on foot at night. He is wearing black pants, a black sweatshirt, black shoes, black gloves and a black ski mask. Scratchy puts his iPod headphones on and begins blasting music at full volume. Without looking, Scratchy crosses the street


    • Did Scratchy act like a reasonable person?

    • Did Scratchy’sactions breach a duty?



    • Cause In Fact: The breach actually caused an injury.

      • Can you trace the injury back to the defendant’s actions?

    • Proximate Cause: The connection between the breach and the injury was foreseeable and not too remote.

      • Could the defendant have foreseen or guessed that his or her actions would cause an injury?

    Problem 3 causation

    Problem #3: Causation

    • Captain McAllister’s boat spills oil into Springfield Harbor. Some of the oil sticks to docks owned by Fat Tony. One of Fat Tony’s workers is welding on the dock and some molten metal ignites the oil, which in turn ignites the entire dock


    • Was Captain McAllister’s spilled oil a cause in fact of the dock fire?

    • Was it the proximate cause of the dock fire?



    • The plaintiff suffered actual damages (medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.).

    • Two types of damages:

      • Compensatory - intended to compensate the plaintiff for actual losses (lost wages, medical bills, pain & suffering, etc.)

      • Punitive - intended to punish the defendant

    Defenses to negligence suits

    Defenses to Negligence Suits

    • Contributory Negligence

      • If the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to the harm suffered, the plaintiff cannot collect anything from the defendant

    • Comparative Negligence

      • Plaintiff’s recovery from the defendant is reduced by the percentage that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to the injury

        • Called Proportionate Responsibility in Texas

        • In Texas, if the plaintiff is found to be over 50% responsible for his own injuries, then he is barred from recovering any damages.

    Problem 4 the big picture

    Problem #4: the big picture

    • The Simpson’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”

    • Homer eats FuguQuestions:

    • Was there negligence involved in Homer’s food poisoning?

    • What precautions were taken, if any, to prevent it?

    • Who was liable for the event?

      • Head Chef? Assistant Chef? Homer?

    • Did Homer contribute in any way?

    • What damages occurred?

    Yolanda and her aggressive puppy

    Yolanda and Her Aggressive Puppy

    • Yolanda’s dog Lucy is very aggressive and has bitten people in the past. One day she takes Lucy to the dog park and let’s her run free. Lucy runs across the street and bites Aaron’s leg while he’s shooting hoops. Aaron is rushed to the hospital where he learns that he will need to stay overnight and have surgery. His medical bills reach $15,000 and he had to miss a week of work while his leg healed. The doctor said he’ll never have full use of his leg.

    Analyzing the case

    Analyzing the Case


    • Did Yolanda have a legal obligation?

    • Did she breach that duty?

    • Did her breach actually cause Aaron’s injury?

    • Could she have foreseen that Lucy would bite someone like Aaron?

    • Are there damages in this case?

    Liebeck v mcdonald s

    Liebeck v. McDonald’s

    • Stella Liebeck, 79, spilled hot coffee on herself

    • 3rd degree burns on 6% of her body, lesser burns on 16%

    • In hospital 8 days, lost 23 pounds

    • Liebeck approached McDonald’s and asked to be reimbursed $20,000; McDonald’s offered $800

    • Liebeck hired an attorney who offered to settle out of court for $90,000; McDonald’s refused

    Liebeck v mcdonald s1

    Liebeck v. McDonald’s

    • Case went to court

      • McDonald’s serves coffee at 170 degrees (normally 140◦)

      • At that temperature, would take 2-7 seconds to cause 3rd degree burns

      • In 10 year period, McDonald’s received 700 reports of scalding incidents & settled for more than $500,000

    Liebeck v mcdonald s2

    Liebeck v. McDonald’s

    • Verdict

      • Jury found McDonald’s guilty of Comparative Negligence (80% responsible)

      • Compensatory Damages

        • $200,000 (medical bills, lost wages, etc.)

        • Reduced by 20% to $160,000

      • Punitive Damages

        • $2.7 Million (based on 1-2 days coffee revenue of $1.35M)

        • Judge reduced to $640,000

        • Settled for undisclosed amount of <$600,000

    2012 stella awards 7

    2012 Stella Awards - #7

    • Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas, was awarded $80,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The store owners were understandably surprised by the verdict, considering the running toddler was her own son.

    2012 stella awards 6

    2012 Stella Awards - #6

    • Carl Truman, 19, of Los Angeles , California , won $74,000 plus medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Truman apparently didn't notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal his neighbor's hubcaps.

    2012 stella awards 5

    2012 Stella Awards - #5

    • Terrence Dickson, of Bristol , Pennsylvania , who was leaving a house he had just burglarized by way of the garage. Unfortunately for Dickson, the automatic garage door opener malfunctioned and he could not get the garage door to open. Worse, he couldn't re-enter the house because the door connecting the garage to the house locked when Dickson pulled it shut. Forced to sit for eight, count 'em, EIGHT days and survive on a case of Pepsi and a large bag of dry dog food, he sued the homeowner's insurance company claiming undue mental anguish. Amazingly, the jury said the insurance company must pay Dickson $500,000 for his anguish.

    2012 stella awards 4

    2012 Stella Awards - #4

    • Jerry Williams, of Little Rock, Arkansas was awarded $14,500 plus medical expenses after being bitten on the butt by his next door neighbor's beagle - even though the beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard. Williams did not get as much as he asked for because the jury believed the beagle might have been provoked at the time of the butt bite because Williams had climbed over the fence into the yard and repeatedly shot the dog with a pellet gun.

    2012 stella awards 3

    2012 Stella Awards - #3

    • Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, because a jury ordered a Philadelphia restaurant to pay her $113,500 after she slipped on a spilled soft drink and broke her tailbone. The reason the soft drink was on the floor: Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

    2012 stella awards 2

    2012 Stella Awards - #2

    • Kara Walton, of Claymont , Delaware , sued the owner of a night club in a nearby city because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth. Even though Ms.Walton was trying to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge, the jury said the night club had to pay her $12,000 ...... oh, yeah, plus dental expenses.

    2012 stella awards 1

    2012 Stella Awards - #1

    • Mrs. MervGrazinski, of Oklahoma City , Oklahoma , who purchased new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On her first trip home, from an OU football game, having driven on to the freeway, she set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the driver's seat to go to the back of the Winnebago to make herself a sandwich. Not surprisingly, the motor home left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Also not surprisingly, Mrs. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not putting in the owner's manual that she couldn't actually leave the driver's seat while the cruise control was set. The Oklahoma jury awarded her -- are you sitting down? --- $1,750,000 PLUS a new motor home. Winnebago actually changed their manuals as a result of this suit, just in case Mrs. Grazinski has any relatives who might also buy a motor home.

    Problems caused by frivolous lawsuits

    Problems Caused by Frivolous Lawsuits

    • Drives up the price of malpractice, auto, and other insurance

    • Forces innocent defendants to spend money for legal defense and cheap settlements

    • Drives up the price of products and services

    • Rewards undeserving lawyers and plaintiffs

    • Consumes court resources and delays processing of legitimate cases

    • Leads to poor patient care (in the case of medical liability)

    Lawsuit abuse

    Lawsuit Abuse

    • 73% of voters say lawyers benefit the most from lawsuits; only 4% say victims do.Election night poll of 800 voters conducted on November 4, 2008 by Public Opinion Strategies

    • 83% of voters say the number of frivolous lawsuits is a serious problem.Election night poll of 800 voters conducted on November 4, 2008 by Public Opinion Strategies

    Lawsuit abuse1

    Lawsuit Abuse

    • 75% of all small business owners in America are concerned they might be the target of a frivolous or unfair lawsuit. Of those who are most concerned, six in ten say the fear of lawsuits makes them feel more constrained in making business decisions generally, and 54 percent say lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits forced them to make decisions they otherwise would not have made.Small Businesses: How the Threat of Lawsuits Impacts Their Operations

    • Small businesses paid $105.4 billion in tort liability costs in 2008.Tort Liability Costs for Small Business

    Lawsuit abuse2

    Lawsuit Abuse

    • Small businesses are responsible for 64 percent of all new jobs created in the U.S economy (SBA Office of Advocacy Frequently Asked Questions). More jobs, higher wages, and better benefits could be provided if the average small business earning $1 million in revenue didn’t have to spend $20,000 each year on an out of control lawsuit system.Tort Liability Costs for Small Business

    • The growth in U.S. tort costs are projected to increase by three percent in 2009.2009 Update on U.S. Tort Cost Trends

    Lawsuit abuse3

    Lawsuit Abuse

    • America’s civil justice system is the world’s most expensive, with a direct cost in 2008 of $254.7 billion, or 1.79 percent of the U.S. GDP.2009 Update on U.S. Tort Cost Trends

    • Tort costs were $838 per U.S. citizen in 2008, meaning a family of four paid a “litigation tax” of $3,352 for the U.S. civil justice system, a cost driven up due to increased costs from lawsuits and other liability expenses that force businesses to raise the price of products and services. 2009 Update on U.S. Tort Cost Trends

    Lawsuit abuse4

    Lawsuit Abuse

    • The cost of the U.S. tort liability system as a percentage of GDP is more than double the average cost of any other industrialized nation.Who Pays for Tort Liability Claims? An Economic Analysis of the U.S. Tort Liability System

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