Law students often read or write case notes1 to prepare for classroom discussion at university. A case note is a short summary of the most important information about a case. As such, it is a useful study tool. The format and contents of a case note can vary, but usually it includes the following sections: case, facts, procedural history, legal issue, ruling and reasoning.
7 Quickly read through the case note below of an important tort law case and match the headings (1-6) in the brief with these descriptions (a-f).
a relevant point of law
b information about the parties and the case
c what the court decided
d what happened
e why the court came to that decision
f how the lower courts decided
1 CASE:Palsgrafv. The Long Island Railroad Company, 248 N.Y. 339; 162 n.e. 99; Court of Appeals of New York  ^___
2 FACTS:Plaintiff2 was standing on a platform of defendant's railroad when a train moved off from the platform. Even though it was already moving, a passenger ran to catch the train.The man, who was carrying a package wrapped in paper, appeared to lose his balance while trying to board the moving train. An employee of the railroad reached out to help him.This act caused the package in the man's arm to fall onto the rails. Unknown to the employee, the package contained fireworks. When it fell, the fireworks exploded, causing some large equipment on the platform to strike and injure the plaintiff.The plaintiff sued the railroad, claiming that her injury resulted from the negligence of the employee.
3 PROCEDURAL HISTORY:The trial court found for the plaintiff. Defendants appealed, and the appellate court affirmed the judgment.The railroad then appealed to this court.
4 LEGAL ISSUE:Did the railroad's negligence proximately cause plaintiff's injuries?
5 RULING:No.The Court of Appeals of New York reversed the decision.
6 REASONING:Negligence is not a tort unless it results in the commission of a wrong. If the harm was not deliberate, it must be shown that the act could have been dangerous. Since in this case the harm to the plaintiff was not wilful on the part of defendant, it had to be shown that the act of dropping a package had the apparent possibility of danger. As there was nothing on the outside of the package which would cause the reasonable person to believe it contained explosives, there was no negligence. It was the explosion that was the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries, an act which could not have been foreseen.Therefore the railroad was neither negligent nor the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries.The judgment of the appellate court was reversed.
1 (US) case briefs 2 (UK) claimant (The word plaintiff ms also used in English law until the new Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) came into force in April 1999.)
8 Read sections 1 and 2 of the case note and answer these questions.
1 What is the name of the case?
2 Who is the defendant?
3 Who is the claimant?
4 What is the defendant alleged to have caused?
9 Read the rest of the note and answer these questions.
1 What was the lower court ruling?
2 What happened when the case was appealed?
3 The word proximate means 'direct' or 'immediate'. What did the court determine is the proximate cause of the injury?
Key terms i: Reporting procedural history
10 The procedural history section tells what happened when the case was tried in the lower courts. Other sections of a case note give information about the decision of the highest court at which the case was tried. Which sections of the case note above contain this information?
11 Find words in the case note above to complete these definitions. You may need to change the verb forms.
1 The person who brings an action in a court of law is called the
2 The person against whom an action is brought in a court of law is known as the
3 When a case is decided in favour of a certain party, the court that party.
4 To bring a case before a higher court so that it can review the decision of a lower court is to a case.
5 A court which hears appeals from lower courts is called an.................................
................................ or a....................................................................
6 When a court states that a judgment of a lower court is true, it 1 that judgment.
7 When a court changes the judgment of a lower court to its opposite, it that judgment.
peaking i: Case discussion
With a partner, discuss the phases in the procedural history of the Palsgrafv. The Long Island Railroad Company case and agree on a simple account of what happened in the courts.
Discuss what you think might have happened if this case had been brought to court in your jurisdiction.
Listening i: Frivolous lawsuits
Law students are expected to know the most important facts of a large number of cases, as well as the legal issues involved and the procedural history of these cases.
14 You are going to hear a discussion between two law students, Maria and Fabio, about a well-known product liability case. Maria mentions compensatory damages and punitive damages. What is the difference between these types of damages? Which should be the highest In a case involving serious negligence?
15 ^$3.1 Listen to the discussion and answer these questions.
1 What does Fabio mean by the words frivolous lawsuit?
2 What injury did the plaintiff suffer?
3 Why did McDonald's refuse to settle out of court?
4 How much did the court award Liebeck in compensatory damages? How much in punitive damages?
5 How much did Liebeck finally receive in damages?
16 ^$3.1 Complete the procedural history section of this excerpt from a case note using words you have studied so far in this unit. Listen to the discussion again if necessary.
CASE:Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, P.T.S., Inc., No. D-202 CV-93-02419,1995 WL 360309 (Bernalillo County, N.M. Dist. Ct. Aug. 18,1994)
FACTS:In 1992, Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, bought a cup of coffee from the drive-through of a McDonald's restaurant. Liebeck placed the coffee cup between her legs and opened it. She spilled the entire cup of coffee on her lap. Liebeck was wearing cotton sweatpants which held the hot liquid against her skin, burning her lower body severely. At the hospital, it was determined that she had suffered third-degree burns on six per cent of her skin. She stayed in the hospital for eight days.Two years of treatment followed.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:After several attempts to reach a 1)............. failed, the claimant sued
the 2).................. for gross negligence.The jury 3)................... the claimant, determining that the
defendant was 80% responsible and the claimant 20%. Claimant was 4).................. $200,000 in
compensatory 5).................. , which was then reduced by 20% to $160,000. $2.7 million in
6).................. damages were also awarded.These damages were then reduced to $480,000.
The decision was 7)................. by both claimant and defendant. However, an out-of-court
settlement for less than $600,000 was finally reached.
Speaking 2: Frivolous lawsuits
17 Discuss these questions.
1 The Liebeck v. McDonald's case inspired a journalist to create the Stella Awards, which are awarded to 'frivolous lawsuits'. They are meant to be amusing, but they also have a serious purpose. What do you think it might be?
2 Can you name any examples of cases from your jurisdiction which you think might be awarded a Stella?
3 What do you think of the Liebeck v. McDonald's case? Do you think it deserves its reputation as a frivolous case?
LAW IN PRACTICE
Tort law covers many legal problems, from everyday accidents to deliberate attempts to harm a person's reputation or business interests. Because of this, tort is one of the most litigated areas of law.
Seeking the advice of a lawyer, taking a case to court or defending yourself in a lawsuit can be very expensive. Law clinics can provide a free alternative to consulting a lawyer in a private firm.
Reading 3: The Kent Law Clinic
18 Read the online introduction to the Kent Law Clinic and answer these questions.
1 Who does the legal work at the Kent Law Clinic?
2 Do clients have to pay for the advice given?
3 What kinds of practical skills can be learned at the law clinic?
The Kent Law Clinic
the first in Britain to
open a law clinic and to develop a 'clinical legal studies' programme as part of its undergraduate curriculum. A new Kent Law Clinic was established in 1992, and it offers a unique opportunity for law students to practise law while still undergraduates. Students regularly represent clients in a wide range of tribunals and have, in recent years, successfully assisted litigants-in-person1.in the Court of Appeal. The clinic offers
free legal advice to its clients, with all the legal work being done
by law students under the supervision of qualified lawyers. You deal with real clients rather than with fictional seminar problems, which means you can develop and refine your legal skills and learn other practical skills, such as interviewing, negotiating and advocacy. Equally importantly, you have the opportunity to experience the actual (rather than the theoretical) way the law and the
19 Find words or phrases in the text to match these definitions.
1 A court or assembly with judicial (or quasi-judicial) functions
2 Someone who represents himself or herself without a lawyer in a court
3 When a lawyer acts on someone's behalf during proceedings
Would you be interested in working as a student lawyer in such a law clinic? Why (not)?
isteninq 2: Student lawyer-client interview
ck, a student lawyer, has decided to join his university's law clinic, and is about to conduct 1 first lawyer-client interview.
4 c 3.2 Listen to the first part of the interview and answer these questions.
1 What kind of product is at the centre of this dispute?
2 What was wrong with the product?
3 Why did Carmecom refuse to replace the product?
4 What options do you think Charles had after Carmecom had refused to replace the product? What would you have done in this situation?
(US) pro se
Unit 3 Tort law ( 33
22 ^$3.3 Listen to the second part of the interview and answer these questions.
1 What did Charles threaten to do?
2 What did Charles do when he left the shop?
3 What did the letter that Charles received say?
Language use: Asking for information
23 Read the audio transcripts for audios 3.2 and 3.3 (pages 126-127) and highlight all of the questions that Nick and Charles ask each other.
24 Match the descriptions of the three main ways of asking for information (a-c) with the headings (1-3).
1 Open questions
2 Negative questions
3 Closed questions (asking for a yes or no response)
We use these questions if we think the answer will be no: Can't I just speak to a lawyer directly?
These questions use an auxiliary verb as the first word in the question. They
require either a positive or a negative answer:
Did you leave the shop without the laptop?
We can also ask these kinds of question by making a statement and adding
a question mark at the end (in writing) or using rising intonation (in speech).
They require either a positive or a negative answer.
You left the shop without the laptop?
We use these questions to find out more information, rather than a simple
yes or no:
What did they say?
We do not need an auxiliary verb when who, what or which is the subject of
What happened next? (Not: What-did happen next?)
25 Put these words in the correct order to form questions that Charles might ask Nick.
1 If / to / retraction, / have / I / sign / go / the / court? / don't / will / to / I
2 How / think / long / do / last? / would / you / a / trial
3 What / winning? / chances /would / of / my / be
4 Would / anything / have / defence? / to / pay / I / for / my
5 What / consequences / are / the / case? / lose / if / I / the
6 Do / computer? / me / chance / getting / think / you / is / a / of / there / a / new
Text analysis: Initial lawyer-client interview
To conduct an effective initial lawyer-client interview, a lawyer must:
C put a client at ease
listen to what the client has to say
explain things clearly
find out what action the client wants to take, not take decisions for the client
tell the client what has to be done next.
A lawyer should not assume that he or she has all of the information needed from a first meeting. The WASP approach to planning, structuring and carrying out an interview helps ensure that nothing is left out. WASP is an acronym for:
p Welcome the client
ft Acquire information
fe Supply information and advise
26 This table gives some advice about conducting a WASP interview. Complete it using the points below (a-l).
2 Acquire information
3 Supply information and advise
• Meet, greet and seat
• Use open questions
• Consider the merits
• Confirm that your
to encourage your
of the case.
client wishes you to
client to tell you everything in his/her own words.
act for him/her.
a Explain what action must be taken.
b Only use closed questions to confirm your understanding of what your client
has already told you. c Explain that you will write to your client summarising what has been
discussed within a certain number of days. d Use sympathetic body language and active listening techniques (for example,
go on, uh-huh, I'm listening) to encourage your client to go on speaking. e Consider the legal and non-legal options.
f Check that your client has no further matters or questions to discuss. g Avoid questions which only allow a restricted range of answers and leading
questions which expect a particular answer (e.g. / imagine simply replacing
your computer would no longer be acceptable?). h Explain the risks involved in taking legal action. i Explain the purpose of your meeting: to get details of the situation from your
client, give legal advice, discuss options and give information on costs. j Periodically summarise and confirm what your client has said so far. k Explain what your client has to do. I Confirm that your client understands the costs and risks involved.
[27 What else is important for an effective lawyer-client interview?
28 Consider the points made in Exercises 26 and 27. How effective was Nick's first interview? Is there anything that he could have done differently?
Unit 3 Tort law
Reading 4: Letter threatening legal action
29 Read the letter that Charles received from Carmecom and answer these questions.
1 What do you think defamatory means?
2 What must Charles do in order to avoid legal action?