Tort Law Practice and Skills

Tort Law Practice and Skills
Stetson University College of Law
Professor Robert D. Bickel


In this course, we will consider tort-accident law topics which are among the most frequent subjects of litigation, and which most law firms would therefore expect have been mastered by a law student who has advanced knowledge of tort law beyond the basic or foundations course.

These topics have likely been the subject of some coverage in the basic course, but are examined here in greater depth, both as to theory, and the analytical approach to the prima facie case, defenses and burden of proof. While each topic will consider process issues, i.e., questions of dismissal as a matter of law, summary judgment and jury questions, the topic of settlement or negotiation per se will not be discussed as to each case.  The course will not emphasize the value of the case from the perspective of a personal injury firm or insurance counsel.  Instead, it is the purpose of the course to enhance the student's analytical skills, as in trial practice courses, but focusing on the theory of tort causes of action, the analytical approach to tort claims and defenses, and the examination of questions of law and fact which determine whether particular claims would survive summary judgment.  Florida statutory and common law will be emphasized.

Our case studies include the following topics:

  1. Tort claims beyond workers compensation
  2. Premises Liability: landowner liability for intentional torts and negligence; tort claims based on attractive nuisance
  3. Vicarious liability of employers and parents
  4. Alcohol-related tort-accident claims
  5. Negligent infliction of emotional distress: Variations on the "bystander rule"
  6. Wrongful termination: tort claims beyond federal employment discrimination law; retaliatory termination of employment and whistleblower protections
  7. The intersection of tort and contract: Negligent misrepresentation; professional negligence and economic injury
  8. False imprisonment: Merchant liability for unreasonable detention
  9. Joint and several liability and comparative negligence
  10. Strict liability for abnormally dangerous activities
  11. Governmental immunity

Assignments & evaluation of student academic performance:  Our approach to the course will emphasize the evaluation of cases by a typical tort practice attorney group.  Students will research particular case studies and submit memoranda summarizing the results of their research and their ultimate evaluation of the merits of possible tort claims and defenses, under Florida law.  While this effort may be collaborative, each student in the group will submit her/his individual memorandum to the professor and all students enrolled in the class by email attachment no later than 72 hours before the scheduled class session on the subject of the particular case study. [The professor will provide an email address list of all enrolled students].

The students to whom a particular case study is assigned will present, at the appropriate class session, their recommendation whether "the firm" should pursue the case under consideration.  All students in the class will be encouraged to respond to the recommendation and supporting research and analysis.  The professor will chair the meeting and facilitate the discussion.  The goals and objectives of the course, as explained above, are to increase the students' mastery of frequently encountered topics in tort-accident law; to increase the students' advanced research and writing skills, emphasizing the comparative analysis of frequently encountered tort claims which remain the subject of recent tort trends; and to develop the students' skills in defending recommendations and otherwise interacting with colleagues in a highly developed tort litigation practice group environment.

Each student's grade will be determined on the basis of the student's written memoranda (50%), oral presentations regarding each assigned case study (25%) and general participation (25%) in the class discussion of each case study.  There will be no final examination in the course.  Grading will be subject to the College's grading policies, including any applicable "grade normalization" policy or parameters.  The course qualifies as a "skills" course under College policy, but does not satisfy the College's writing requirement.

Students are permitted 3 class absences.  A student may arrive late or leave early with the advance permission of the professor, except that students are required to attend all classes that are the subject of their own assigned case studies.  Students are encouraged to communicate with the professor and each other by email.