Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My 7-year-old kid may be a torts genius

I had one of those golden parenting moments this morning. I'm driving my 7-year-old son to school, and we get into a conversation about car wrecks - who is responsible, what are the penalties, etc. Then, almost out of nowhere, he turns to me and says this: "Does the driver have to pay if he doesn't mean to crash into the other car, and the judge decides it's a mistake?" For the love of law school, I almost jumped through the windshield. What a terrific question, I told him. Too bad we only had five more minutes to get to school.

This is the type of issue that we've just spent the entire semester examining in our Torts class. And in another two days, it'll be one of the central issues on our 1L Torts final - the second of four final exams that will end Dec. 10. The study of torts is a maddening process, but it has great application to everyday life. Liability in the car wreck scenario, for example, may turn on whether the driver could reasonably foresee the result of his actions, whether the injured driver did something to contribute to the crash, and other factors such as the weather, local traffic statutes, and whether the driver was behind the wheel of an ambulance or police cruiser. Here are a few other torts tidbits, gathered from our casebook and various study aids.

  • A driver who has a sudden heart attack behind the wheel may not be negligent in causing a wreck, as long as he doesn't know he is susceptible to a heart attack.
  • A child under the age of 18 is treated like an adult in a negligence case, as long as the child is engaging in an activity normally reserved for adults. Otherwise, the kid is treated like a kid. But courts differ widely on what is an adult activity. Some say golf is adult-like, but deer hunting is not. What about a snowmobile? A go-kart?
  • There is generally no duty to come to the aid of a person in peril in a public setting. But, a person who puts another in peril due to his negligent acts is also liable to anyone who tries to rescuer that person and is in turn injured. And the rescuer herself may be negligent if she acts rashly in conducting the rescue. And on and on and on...

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