The following questions were asked on various Harvard Law School First-Year Torts examinations. The questions are reproduced as they actually appeared, with only slight modifications. The sample answers are not “official” and represent merely one approach to handling the questions.
At points where a trail entered his property in a sparsely settled area, Farmer posted signs warning, “No trespassing. Snowmobilers and other unauthorized persons keep off. Violators assume all risks.” Boisterous intruders continued to run snowmobiles through his property at night. Farmer then erected a barbed wire barrier across the trail at each edge of his property and again about 100 yards in from each edge. He piled brush over the two barbed wire barriers at the edges of the property, but left the barbed wire uncovered at the barriers farther in. Joyce, operating a snowmobile owned by Jimmy, her passenger, maneuvered around a barrier at the edge of Farmer’s property, returned to the trail, and while proceeding at high speed, crashed into one of the inner barriers. Joyce, not having her seat belt fastened, was thrown off the snowmobile into a snowbank, unhurt. The snowmobile, uncontrolled, crashed into Farmer’s barn, a quarter of a mile off the trail, and started a fire. Jimmy unfastened his seat belt and dragged himself away from the fire, severely injured. Farmer rushed out to the barn and tried to control the fire. Joyce appeared, discovered Jimmy’s condition, and asked Farmer to take them to the nearest hospital, 40 miles away. When Farmer refused and continued his efforts to control the fire, Joyce, threatening Farmer with a knife, took Farmer’s car keys and forced Farmer to help carry Jimmy to Farmer’s car. Joyce then drove Jimmy to the hospital, where Jimmy was found to be suffering from exposure as well as the injuries from the crash. Farmer returned to the barn to fight the fire, but without success.
What torts? Explain.
I will discuss the possible torts in the chronological order in which they occurred.
Trespass by Joyce and Jimmy: It seems clear that both Joyce and Jimmy have committed a trespass on Farmer’s land. As trespassers, they are liable for virtually all consequences, probably including the burning of the barn (even if this was not foreseeable, and even if it was not the result of any negligence). Even though Jimmy was not the driver, he will almost certainly be held to have actively participated in the trespass, and he will be jointly and severally liable with Joyce for the barn-burning.