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					Session 4: Civil Law
Session Assignments
4A 4B 4C 4D 4E 4F 4G 4H 4I Civil Law, A Reading Internet Activity, A Class Action Suit Key Words/Concepts Short Answer/Fill In The Blank/True or False You Decide, Name that Tort; (FCAT Alert) Outline Completion Review: Torts and Defenses Internet Activity, Copyright Take Session 4 Test

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4A-Introduction to Civil Law
Different from criminal law, civil law deals with disputes between people. There are four primary branches or types of civil law: contracts, property, family law and civil wrongs that cause damage to property or physical injury, and this last area is called tort law. In criminal law, the state files charges against an individual who has committed a crime. In civil law, an injured individual may sue the person or party that caused the damage. The intent of civil law is protection of an individual and the prevention of a harmful action. Keep in mind though, that an act can be both a tort and a crime. About 90% of the cases heard in state courts are civil, but most people find that difficult to believe. The American public does not often hear about the civil cases unless there is a large suit, or class action in which hundreds of people who were injured join together to file a lawsuit. This we hear about and often see in newspapers asking if we, or people we know have been harmed or injured by either a prescription drug or a defective product of sorts. A recent example was a class action lawsuit filed in October 2004 against Merck & Company in Florida. As you may know, if from nowhere else but television commercials, Merck is the manufacturer of the arthritis drug Vioxx. In civil law terms, the people in the class action suit are known collectively as the plaintiffs, or the individuals claiming harm, and the defendant, or potential wrongdoer is Merck & Company. The plaintiffs in this civil suit are asking for compensation for their medical bills, punitive damages, which is normally money, and compensation for pain and suffering. The lawyers behind the lawsuit are claiming that Merck did not disclose the potential dangers of Vioxx when it was marketed. The National Claims Center for Vioxx sufferers and their families stated in January of 2005 that “Merck & Co.’s Vioxx may have caused as many as 140,000 heart attacks in the U.S. before it was withdrawn September 30, 2004.” 4B- Internet Activity Using one of the internet’s search engines, report on the latest information on the class action lawsuit involving Merck & Company and Vioxx. Summarize the information stating only the current facts that have been discovered. __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________ Next, based on what you’ve just discovered, imagine that you are part of the class action lawsuit. Prepare and write at least three statements that you would say as one of the plaintiffs in the case; you want a judgment or ruling in your favor. This may require you to so some more research.

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1. ______________________________________________________________ 2. _____________________________________________________________ 3. _____________________________________________________________ Even though tort law is prevalent today and most cases are settled without a trial, this was not always the case. It blossomed as the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s saw many cases of injured workers, and in particular, those who worked on the railroads. Industrialists feared at that time that if the courts awarded damages to workers, it would cause flourishing businesses to backslide. With the advent of regulations in the 1900s though, liability issues came into focus. This meant that those who were responsible, or had a product that caused the injury could be held responsible for the harm. This brought two major categories of torts to the forefront, an intentional wrong or misconduct and negligence. The intentional wrong states exactly what it is, a deliberate act that causes harm to a person or property. If something is done to harm someone and it is intentional, it may also be a crime, but to recover any monetary compensation, the case must be tried in civil court. On the other hand, our most common tort negligence is not intentional; no harm was meant to happen, but somewhere, somehow, someone did not exercise good judgment and someone was hurt as a result. Strict liability is different from both intentional wrongs and negligence in that even if the individual exercises the utmost care, there is still a grave risk of harm. Each of the three areas of torts has its own degree of fault that a plaintiff must prove in order to recover damages from a defendant, and there are two basic questions tort law answers. One is who should be liable or responsible and the other is how much should the responsible party have to pay in damages. However, unlike a criminal case where the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a personal injury lawsuit can be won if a majority of evidence demonstrates that the injury was caused by tortious actions. This is generally termed a preponderance of evidence. If a plaintiff is trying to prove someone was negligent, the question to be answered is whether the person who caused the injury was behaving as carefully as a reasonable person would under the circumstances. One of the most difficult tasks an attorney has in this type of case is clarifying what the jury interprets as a reasonable person.

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Intentional wrongs or misconduct is just what it says, something was sold that the manufacturer knew was defective or an intentional harm was done to a person. In this situation, there is no comparison of acts regarding a reasonable person, but it must be shown that the defendant intended the action. Damages can be compensatory or punitive. When someone is awarded compensatory damages they are given a sum of money that “compensates” them for the harm they were caused. There are occasions where someone may only be awarded nominal damages, and that is just a token amount of money. It is actually a symbolic award and this generally occurs when there are no injuries.

We classify the torts that harm people as assault or battery. For battery to occur, the contact must be intentional or offensive. If someone is injured, the person causing the harm is held liable. Assault is similar, but the differentiating statement is that someone is put in fear of detrimental contact. The actual contact does not have to occur. Another tort the general public hears about repeatedly, especially where actresses, actors, and athletes are concerned is defamation. Stars regularly contend that someone has damaged their reputation by falsely claiming they said or did something. The two types of defamation we hear the most about are slander and libel. Both hint at the same thing, statements that damage someone’s reputation, but slanderous statements are oral and libelous ones are written. Even though freedom of speech and freedom of the press are guaranteed by the First Amendment, to win a case, malice must be proven. This requires proof that the claims or statements made, whether written or spoke were done intentionally with disregard for the truth. You will read about libel in Session 11 Landmark Court Cases. The case is New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). Lastly, strict liability is based on the inherent danger of the activity. The person assumes responsibility for the damage, in particular those who pursue dangerous

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activities or possess animals they know to be dangerous. Also included are those who sell products to the public that are defective; this is called product liability. For those who own property, tort law is there for protection. One of our privileges in a democratic society is the opportunity to use and own property and the right to buy and sell it as we deem appropriate. The two major categories of property are real property and personal property. The courts define real property as land and whatever is either growing on it or is attached to it. Our personal property is those items we can move about, whether its jewelry, clothing, stocks, patents or furniture. We often see no trespassing signs posted on fences or homes, and if we choose to disregard them and enter another’s property, we are subject to the tort of trespassing because we did not have permission to enter another’s domain. We, on the other hand, as owners have the right to recover damages from a trespasser. In regards to our personal property, protection is afforded by patents and copyrights. In most work places there will be signs near copy machines warning copyright laws are in effective, and all of this is done to protect the interests of those who originated the expression.

4C- Key words/concepts 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. torts - the largest area of civil law plaintiff - the harmed individual defendant - the wrongdoer judgment - a ruling damages - normally money, compensation for the plaintiff liability - to be held responsible for harm intentional wrong or intentional misconduct- a person acts with the intention of injuring someone or their property, or both 8. negligence - result of a person’s failure to use reasonable care resulting in harm; this is the most common tort 9. strict liability - there is serious risk of harm even if someone exercises the utmost care just because of the seriousness of the act itself 10. class action - when hundreds of people who were injured by one action group together to file a lawsuit

4D-Short Answer/True or False/ Fill in the Blanks Directions: Fill in the blank with the correct answer to complete the statement or write True or False in the space provided. 1. Most law is criminal. _______________ 2. A single activity can be both a tort and a crime. _______________ 3. The two basic questions that tort law answers are _______________________

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4. 5. 6. 7.

___________________________________________________________ and ______________________________________________________________ Most tort cases are settled without a trial. _______________ If you were the person who caused harm, you could be held ______________. If I slip and fall going to the ladies’ room in a restaurant, I will be referred to as the _______________ in the case. The most common tort is _______________, and it is considered _______________.

8. I breed pit bulls and venomous snakes for a living. What category of conduct in tort law might I be classified in? _______________ 9. As a homeowner, what is the value of carrying liability insurance? ________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________. 10. The four areas of civil law are ____________, ___________,_____________ and ______________.

4E

You Decide-Name that Tort, a Scenario Directions: Read the scenario that follows, keeping the categories of torts in mind. You are the judge; decide the case and support your reasons on the lines provided. Be sure to state what tort you think the suit is based on. (FCAT Alert) The Maid Stacie and Joe had been married for seven years, and now with four kids to take care of and a 2,500 square foot house to clean, Stacie was exhausted! All of the kids were finally in school, but by the time Stacie gets home with all the kids, there is no time left to clean the house, not even with Joe’s help. They decided that to maintain their sanity, they would hire a maid to come in once a week and do the cleaning.

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Since Joe worked at a large corporation, he knew a lot of people, and he decided to ask around to see if any of his co-workers could recommend someone. Word got down to the loading lock and one of the drivers said his wife would love to pick up some extra cash. They had just bought their first house and it needed some work so the extra money would come in handy. Joe said that would be great and they set up and interview. When Joanna arrived, Joe was surprised to see her husband with her, but what her husband neglected to tell Joe was that Joanna knew very little English. She still spoke mostly Spanish and read little to no English. Joe and Stacie took an instant liking to Joanna and hired her. She agreed to start work the following week. Stacie said she would leave all of the cleaning products out for Joanna to use. Joanna started to clean the kitchen sink and picked up the two of the three bottles that Stacie had left. She sprayed the counters and sinks, and the two products merged releasing caustic odors. Joanna was overcome and barely made it out of the house. She called her husband and told him what happened. They decided to sue Stacie and Joe. ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________ No discussion about civil law would be complete without an introduction to the defenses against torts. The key defenses include the misuse of a product by a consumer (strict liability), consent and self-defense (battery), opinion, lack of malice, truth (defamation) and comparative and contributory negligence and assumption of risk (negligence). Perhaps the only ones that require more of an explanation are the ones related to negligence; we’ve already covered the others earlier in our reading. Referring back to the concept of a preponderance of evidence discussed earlier, even if all elements can be proven, the plaintiff’s conduct still comes into focus. If someone is harmed and it is partly their own fault, it is termed contributory negligence. Plainly said, your own actions contributed to the harm, the defendant is not solely responsible. Closely aligned is the concept of comparative negligence. This means that the loss is broken down into two

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parts, to the extent that each person is responsible, and what that person would be awarded is based on their degree of responsibility. Assumption of risk is the last defense that needs clarification, and for those people who enjoy risky activities, this is part of the package. We are reminded of this daily when we read signs that state “please do not pet the horses,” or “swim at your own risk.” When individuals choose to do an activity after being warned, they immediately assume the risk involved with that activity. As Floridians, we should know that our tort laws were recently reformed, primarily in response to the tremendous number of frivolous lawsuits plaguing the court system The Tort Reform Act became effective in 1999, and the two major areas of the act addressed concerns by private property owners and businesses regarding standards and personal injury lawsuits and the limits imposed on awards for punitive damages.

4F

Outline-Intentional Torts Directions: Fill in the blanks with the correct term or word. I. Intentional Torts a. those causing injury to _______________ b. those causing harm to property II. Types of Damages a. compensatory 1. award compensates for harm by the defendant 2. can include money for lost wages and pain and suffering b. _______________ 1. _______________ awards of money 2. award could be as little as one dollar c. punitive 1. awarded to the _______________ 2. used as a warning to others not to do the same thing III. Torts that Injure Persons a. _______________ 1. intentional harm or offensive contact with another 2. person can be held liable for all resulting damages b. assault 1. intentional putting of one in fear of immediate harmful contact 2. fear of _______________ or _______________ contact must be reasonable or well-founded c. infliction of mental _______________ IV. Defamation a. _______________ b. libel

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V. Torts that harm property a. Real property 1. _______________

4G Review -Torts and Defenses Directions: Read through the following terms and decide which are torts and which are defenses to torts. List the torts in the left hand column and the defense in the right hand column. HINT: Don’t let the number of lines fool you! assumption of risk battery comparative negligence consent contributory negligence defamation lack of malice misuse of product by consumer negligence opinion self-defense strict liability acts truth

__________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________ __________________________

_____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________ _____________________________

4H- Internet Activity, Copyright Directions: You and three of your friends have just produced a motion picture and you want to copyright it. Find the website containing copyright registration information. List and explain the steps necessary to register a performing arts work. When does the copyright become effective? ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________

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