Problems and Answers - Tort Problems Assignment #9


1. Thomas Casterman is a 12-year old boy who enjoys climbing trees. The Casterman family just moved into a new house. The electric wires to Thomas's house run from an electric pole through the high branches of an oak tree in his back yard. While the rest of the family was moving into the home, Thomas ran to the back yard to climb the tree. As he neared the top, he grabbed the electric wires with his right hand. The wires were not insulated and Thomas was severely burned from the resulting electric shock. He also broke both his legs when he fell, unconscious, from the tree. Thomas's father wishes to know if he might successfully sue the utility company for negligence.

answer: Issue: Was the utility company negligent in running uninsulated electric wires through a tree, which injured Thomas Casterman while he was climbing the tree?

Rule of Law: Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care to avoid injuring others.

Application of Rule to Facts: Uninsulated electric wires are extremely dangerous to anyone who might come into contact with them. A utility company is expected to use reasonable care to protect bystanders from electric shock from its wires. Insulating the wires would have prevented the injury to Thomas- It was reasonably foreseeable that adventurous children like Thomas would climb trees and come into contact with electric wires. The utility violated its duty of care to protect against injuries to children climbing trees, such as the harm that befell Thomas Casterman.

Conclusion: The utility is liable to the Castermans for causing Thomas's injuries.

2. Shady Acres is a subdivision being developed by Bartholomew Real Estate Management, Inc. (BREM). While bulldozing the lots and streets, BREM's crews created huge piles of dirt. BREM did not erect any barriers to keep these dirt piles in place. Pamela Jovanco owns a house at the bottom of a hill upon which BREM placed several earth piles. During heavy rains, mud would slide down the hill and cover Pamela's entire yard. Some mud even seeped though her basement windows, damaging her basement carpet and furniture. Pamela wonders if trespass has occurred.

anwer: Issue: Did BREM commit trespass against Pamela Jovanco?

Rule of Lazu: Trespass is unlawful or unreasonable interference with the use of someone's property.

Application of Rule to Facts: By allowing piles of dirt and mud, carried by rainfall, to How down a hill onto Pamela's property, damaging her land and house, BREM's actions would be considered an unreasonable use that injured aucither's land. Therefore....

Conclusion: BREM has committed trespass against Pamela.

3. Samantha Billingsly stood outside her downtown hotel hailing a cab. The driver screeched to a halt alongside the curb. Samantha opened the rear door of the automobile and began to climb inside. In doing so, she placed her right hand on the roof of the car where the top of the door would close. Suddenly, the cab driver accelerated the automobile, causing the rear door to slam shut onto Samantha's hand. Samantha suffered lacerations and several broken bones in her right hand and wrist. She also suffered a neck injury as she was thrown against the back seat as the taxi lurched forward. The cab driver later explained that he had accelerated suddenly to avoid being struck by a shuttle bus, which he thought was about to collide with his taxi when he saw it approaching very rapidly in his rearview mirror. Using negligence theory, Samantha would like to sue the Blue Cab Company, which owns the taxi.

answer: Issue: Is the cab company liable for negligence when one of its drivers, through sudden and unexpected acceleration, injures a passenger attempting to enter the vehicle?

Rule of Law: Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care to avoid injuring others.

Application of Rule to Facts: The cab driver failed to exercise reasonable care in safeguarding Samantha Billingsly. The driver should have anticipated that his sudden, unexpected acceleration would cause the door to slam shut on Samantha's hand and force her into the back seat.

Conclusion: Because the cab driver failed to use reasonable care in safeguarding Samantha, the driver was negligent in causing her injuries and the cab company would be liable.

4. Eddie Peterson owned a coyote, which he captured while hunting last summer in the mountains. The coyote had become quite tame and at parties, to entertain guests, Eddie would routinely allow the animal to eat out of his hand. One day, Eddie',; next-door neighbor, Angela Starlight, a seven-year-old girl, visited Eddie's back yard to play with the coyote. Angela's parents had warned her several times to avoid approaching the coyote, although neither they nor Angela had ever seen the animal bite or growl at anyone. When Angela reached out to pet the coyote, it bared its teeth and snapped at her hand, biting and cutting her severely. Angela's parents sued Eddie under the theory of absolute liability. Under most states' common law, owners are strictly liable for injuries caused by their wild animals.

answer: Issue: Is a coyote owner absolutely liable for injuries caused by the animal if it bites a seven-year-old girl?

Rule of Law: Strict (or absolute) liability is the tortfeasor's responsibility for injuring another, regardless of intent, negligence, or fault. As noted in the facts, most states' common law applies strict liability to wild animal cases.

Application of Rule to Facts: By their very nature, wild animals are not tame, like dogs or cats. Because the coyote is a wild animal, the owner would be absolutely liable for the injury it inflicts upon others. So...

Conclusion: Eddie Peterson is strictly liable for Angela Starlight's injuries caused by his coyote.

updated: 4/18/05
Prof. J.