In most jurisdictions, tort is regarded a civil wrong but under certain circumstances it is also regarded as a criminal case e.g. in cases of assault. In legal circles it acts as a basis for an action of a lawsuit. Torts are categorised under the law of obligations. Duties that fall under tort law are regarded as a necessary requirement for all citizens unlike voluntary obligations imposed under contracts. If a person commits a tortious act, then in legal term for the person is a Tortfeasor. Tortious acts include breach of duties imposed under statutory laws, negligence, inflicting bodily harm to other persons, property, or infringement on the rights of other people’s rights. Negligence is a civil wrong that can be tried under tort law. It involves behaving in a manner that fails to protect other people or their property against foreseeable risks. For cases involving negligence, there are certain legal concepts and criteria that are utilized in the acquisition of compensation for injuries suffered or accidents met. The tort law of negligence is therefore based on certain concepts that are herein defined. Duty refers to a sense of obligation to another person that is clearly stipulated in the torts law. Duty serves as a means of constraining and directing behavior people with regards to others thereby making one responsible for ensuring the safety of those around or their property. It provides the coherent definition for a claim on negligence. Breach of duty is the misconduct itself or the defendant’s act of failing to honor his/her obligation. This is based on a predetermined standard established to prevent injuring others or damaging their property. Harm refers to the damage that the plaintiff suffers as a result of the plaintiff’s choices and actions. This is important because the defendant is normally required to offer compensation to the plaintiff for the harm or injury that they have inflicted. This paper will evaluate the case of Mrs. Todd with regard to the application and provisions of the tort law of negligence.
Tort is the French word for wrong. The Tort law is meant to provide legal protection from injury/harm or property damage and for those that are injured it offers means to seek redress and compensation for the injury or property damaged. Therefore the tort law assigns duty (responsibility) on individuals, businesses or their agents not to deliberately or negligently harm others in the society or damage their property. The law was established following a court ruling in 1932 in the Donoghue v Stevenson  AC 562. The basic elements of this law are Duty, causation, breach, damages and the Scope of Liability. Under the tort law it is possible for somebody to file a civil law suit and seek compensation for injury or damage of property. Tort damages refer to the monetary compensation sought by the injured party for the injury or/and property damage suffered. There are three divisions of the tort law: intentional, unintentional and strict liability torts.
Intentional torts require clear demonstration that the defendant had deliberately purposed to cause harm to a given party. These are further categorized into two: intentional torts against persons and intentional torts against property. An example of an intentional law against persons is seen in the suit that featured the New York Times versus Sullivan where the court held that the public officials can’t sue for defamation unless they can actually prove that the defendant actually had malicious intentions towards them. Strict liability torts are torts where a participant will be held liable for any injuries resulting from their action even if they were not negligent i.e. even if care was taken not to harm.Unintentional torts (negligence) have to meet a certain criteria. The plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care which they breached. It must also be clearly demonstrated that the defendant’s negligence resulted in the harm of the plaintiff and that the plaintiff suffered injury or property damage.
2.0 Legal issues and relevant legal terms in the Alan and Mrs. Todd scenario
There are various issues that arise in this scenario that point to negligence. A civil suit leveled against Alan would be heard under the unintentional tort or strict liability tort. Tort law of negligence (also called unintentional torts) encompasses various elements which are evident in the scenario involving Alan, Mr. and Mrs. Todd and Brian.
Duty is defined as a sense of obligation owed to another person or their property as guided by the tort law. Duty serves as a means of constraining and directing behavior people with regards to others thereby making one responsible for ensuring the safety of those around or their property. It provides the coherent definition for a claim on negligence. For this reason choices and actions are deemed as harmful or not harmful in reference to a pre- existing obligation that had been set by law for the work environment. Based on this understanding it is evident that Alan as a supervisor at Fresco supermarket had no obligation to aid Mrs. Todd. However Alan rushed to help and had little knowledge of the operations of the scooter. He had a duty to at least inquire on the operations of the scooter before rushing to help. He had a duty to take care of the neighbor’s property because his rush cost the tobacco a lot of damage of property.
The extent to which an individual is held responsible for duty differs from one context to another. The sense of duty that is captured in tort law strikes a complex balance between offering security from harm for certain classes of people and those who are obliged to freely choose their cause of action towards this class of people. Therefore the circumstances under which injury occurs determines whether a negligence lawsuit is going to go through the due court process for adjudication or not. The weaker the duty rules, the more the difficult it is a suit against negligence to go through the court system. In other words if duty of care was not owed to the offended party the case may be throne out. In such cases the offended party has to seek other means of compensation such as from insurance companies. However if the rules regarding duty are strong then the lawsuits might actually get to the adjudication stage. For instance in this case it would be difficult to prove negligence or even intentional harm. The rules of duty may also be difficult to apply in this case.
The application of the sense of duty can be illustrated for instance during a social function, a guest can choose to take a lot of alcohol then go ahead and drive back home. In case this guest has an accident the court considers it the duty of the guest to be in control of the amount of alcohol taken by the victim. This is applicable to the above scenario where it can be said that Brian had the obligation to watch out for his own safety therefore it can be argued that Alan is not entirely responsible for his predicament. It can however be argued that Alan had a duty to know the operations of the scooter before rushing to help or to limit his help to the extent that he has no contact with the scooter. If the scooter was provided by the supermarket then the supermarket had a duty to train the employees on its operations and if it belonged to Mrs. Todd then she had a duty to instruct Alan on how to help without risking injury.
2.2 Breach of duty
Breach of duty is the misconduct itself or the defendant’s act of failing to honor his/her obligation. This is based on a predetermined standard established to prevent injuring others or damaging their property. Earlier on, the breach of duty in legal circles heavily depended on the kind of relationship between the parties involved such as doctor and patient or inn-keeper and the guest. However with advances in society, there is more interaction among individuals hence the scope of the breach of duty has been broadened to accommodate the collisions that are likely to occur among individuals.
What a responsible person would do in a given situation is used to determine the type and the amount of care that would be considered reasonable in that situation. The defendant’s choices and actions are not considered in isolation as the cause of the harm but rather they are considered alongside external factors as deemed prudent. In the case of Alan versus Mr. and Mrs. Todd there are arguments that can be advanced to either support Alan’s actions as prudent or not.
In Posecai v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Supreme Court of Louisiana, 752 So.2d 762 (1999), Posecai was robbed of jewelry worth 19,000 dollars in Sam’s parking lot that was close to a high crime area. The court ruled that the store owner had no duty to protect the customer from the crime since the occurrence of that particular crime could not have been predicted. This argument can apply in Alan’s case where it can be argued that Alan did not breach his duty since there was little likelihood of the accident occurring. Never the less if the scooter had been provided by the supermarket then the supermarket could be said to have breached its duty of training its employees on the operation of the scooter and the possible dangers. In addition in rushing to help without considering his little knowledge of the operations of the scooter Alan could be considered to have somehow breached his duty to only get involved if he has sufficient knowledge. His actions could be deemed imprudent thus leading to the fatal accident.
With regard to children and persons with disabilities, the standards applied are different. If there is some level of expertise involved, then even greater levels of care should be extended towards the person. Some lawyers may argue that Mrs. Todd’s osteoporosis and arthritis should be taken into account in determining breach of duty as forms of predisposing disabilities. However Alan had no way of knowing that Alan could have known that Mrs. Todd suffered from the condition.
2.3 Cause in fact
Causation fact basically links the defendant’s actions or omission to the injury or property damage. In other words the claimant must prove that the defendant’s actions or negligence or property damage. Some of the accidents that occur daily are as a result of bad luck or carelessness of the victims themselves thus may not be considered under tort law. Tort law allows the plaintiff to make claims only if the defendant’s actions or negligence are directly responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. The causation fact does not only depend on evidence that the defendant’s actions were responsible for the plaintiff injuries but may also depend on evidence that the negligence of the defendant resulted to injury or property damage. In this case it could be argued that Alan’s action were responsible for injury, property damage and even death. It is Alan’s action that led to Mrs. Todd’s injury that could make her dependent for the rest of her life and especially given that she had not asked for his help. Alan’s action led to Mr. Todd’s eventual death, Brian’s injury and the tobacco stall’s property damage.
Mrs. Todd can link the emotional distress resulting from the husband’s death to Alan’s action. There is a legal precedence on claims for cause of emotional distress in R.J. v. Humana of Florida, Inc., 652 So.2d, 360 (Fla. 1995) civil suits. In this case a man was erroneously diagnosed with HIV and he successfully sued for compensation for emotional distress resulting from the error. It is vital to note that the emotional distress resulted from an error; similarly all the injuries (including emotional) in the case study resulted from Alan’s error and not intention. Brian can also contest on the same premise citing the emotional disturbance he has to go through as a result of missing out on his needed holiday.
This refers to the damage that the plaintiff suffers as a result of the plaintiff’s choices and actions. This is important because the defendant is normally required to offer compensation to the plaintiff for the harm or injury that they have inflicted (and not that inflicted by the plaintiff’s actions or choices). The monetary compensation that the claimant receives is normally meant to make up for what the victim may have lost as a result of the harm that has been inflicted .
In the given scenario, there are several claimants with the right to seek compensation. Mrs. Todd had pre-existing medical conditions and during the incident at Fresco Supermarket she broke some bones hence her mobility was further impaired. This scenario has been seen in other cases where the plaintiffs have sued for damages thus they were awarded monetary compensation. In Portee v. Jaffee, Supreme Court of New Jersey, 84 N.J. 88, 417 A.2d 521 (1980), a mother had to watch her four year old son who was caught between the elevator and shaft wall endure so much pain in the course of the attempts to rescue him. He finally succumbed to death and the mother sought to hold the plaintiff responsible for causing emotional harm to her and physical harm to her son. The court ruled that the plaintiff had indeed caused her and the son considerable harm.
The tort law of negligence also allows the plaintiffs to recover for their secondary damages that flow as a result of the accident. For Brian, he will have to be out of work during his recovery period in addition missing out his pre- arranged water sport holiday in the Caribbean. This is covered by the tort law on negligence as seen in the following two illustrations. In Quill v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 361 N.W.2d 438 (Minn.App.1985), the passengers were awarded 50,000 dollars each since their plane continued to shake 40 minutes after plunging 34,000 feet in a tail spin. This was a source of secondary distress to the passengers after having gone through the initial fright of plunging thousands of feet downwards.
In Robinson v. District of Columbia (1990), a pedestrian was knocked over by a police van as he was crossing outside of a side walk. In the adjudication it was held that the police were negligent therefore were supposed to compensate the plaintiff. Similarly since Brian was carrying out his usual duties at his work station when the incident that resulted in his injury occurred there is room for him to file a law suit citing negligence on the part of Alan.
2.5 scope of liability
This element of the tort law limits compensation for injuries that involve foreseeable and natural consequences of the defendant’s actions or negligence. This could particular helpful to Alan and the supermarket in mounting their defense. They could argue that it was not foreseeable that Alan’s act of helping Mrs. Todd could have led to all the injuries and property loss mentioned. Neither was Alan negligent in any way resulting in the injuries and property loss.
In conclusion the Tort law provides legal protection from injury/harm or property damage and for those that are injured it offers means for them to seek redress. The tort law assigns duty (responsibility) on individuals, businesses or their agents not to deliberately or negligently harm others in the society or damage their property. In the scenario presented several people were injured, property was damaged and a life was lost. Mrs. Todd and Brian can therefore file a civil suit under the tort law while Alan and the supermarket can mount a defense particularly on the basis of scope of liability. Clearly it would be a difficult decision but several previous cases would provide precedence that would form valuable basis of the adjudication.
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