TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The First Day of Torts Class

Yesterday I taught the first Torts class of the year.  I always love starting it all over from the beginning and the promise of a fresh bunch of students.  On the first day, I cover:  1. what's a tort?  2.  what are the types of torts? and 3. why do we have torts?.  I would do this regardless of which casebook I was using.   How do others use the first day?  Also, this is the first time I am teaching a one-semester, four-credit course instead of a two-semester, five-credit course.  Thoughts on the differences?


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Because we teach torts in the first semester I first spend some time going over some of the basic skills I think the students need to work on. I talk about law school in general, what is expected of them, what they can expect to see happen in the classroom, etc. Then I talk about cases, how to read them and how to brief them. And, most importantly, I talk about the concept of an issue and how to identify it and state it correctly. I give them a short reading on this ahead of time. Then I go into the same things you mentioned (definition of a tort, the concept of liability, comparison with criminal liability, breach of contracts etc...).

We also teach the course in a one semester, 4 credit, format. I like it because I can plan and control the full course. Before we made the change we had a very weird system that did not make sense to me. I refused to teach what we used to call Torts I; only taught Torts II - but that is a long story. I was very glad when we made the change. Obviously, the issue with a 4 credit class is that you will have to make some choices as to what material to leave out.

Posted by: Alberto Bernabe | Aug 29, 2013 7:54:05 AM

As strange as it may sound for the first class of a first year class, I have a group issue spotting exercise using the following video. I find it an effective way to preview the entire class.

Posted by: Mike Koehler | Aug 29, 2013 5:03:34 PM

Hi Mike,

I find the idea of using this video intriguing. When you say you do an issue spotting exercise, do you mean you ask them to identify what tort law breaches have occurred? Or what they think should amount to tortious conduct? Or what illegal conduct there is generally? Any further detail would be appreciated.

Posted by: Hilary Young | Jul 15, 2015 10:08:05 AM

The questions circulated for discussion are as follows.

• Is there a legal cause of action?

• Who are the likely plaintiffs?

• Who are the likely defendants?

• As to each likely defendant, what is the tort theory of liability? What are the disputed issues likely to be?

• Assume the defendants settle or the plaintiffs prevail at trial. What is the appropriate measure of damages for each likely plaintiff?

Posted by: Mike Koehler | Jul 17, 2015 8:05:10 AM

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