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. The page references in parentheses are to the main text of the outline.
QUESTION 1: 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.
QUESTION 2: During his 63rd year, defendant D’s wife died and he retired on his social security and a small pension. He moved out of the house he had lived in with his family for 35 years, into a smaller wood frame one in a residential neighborhood. About a year later, he became aware that an ailanthus tree was growing into the brick foundation. He consulted a friend who was a small time building contractor, and was told that unless he did something about the tree he would eventually have to replace that part of the foundation, at a cost of at least $10,000. He then called a local company that was in the business of pruning and removing trees. They told him that it would cost him about $4,000 to have the tree cut down and taken away.
$4,000 was his income for a month, so he decided to do the job himself. He was in good health. He owned a chain saw and some ropes, and he had often spent his lunch hour watching tree surgeons at work. The tree was about 30 feet high, but he knew that ailanthus wood is light and weak, being mainly water.
From his attic window, he tied a rope around an upper branch and then went outside and cut through about six of the 12 inches of the trunk. He pulled on the rope, in order to cause the tree to fall away from the street, along the side of his house, and into his back yard. What he didn’t realize was that he had made the cut on the wrong side of the tree (only an expert would have known this) so that, given its angle and the distribution of its foliage, the natural direction of its fall was toward the street. The tree wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard he pulled on the rope, and he found himself quickly out of breath and a little dizzy. He picked up the chain saw and cut further into the trunk, until he realized that the tree had begun to fall – toward the street! He tried to push it back and over into the right direction. He would probably have succeeded had he been a vigorous young man of 20. But he was too weak, and the tree fell into the street, severing an electric power line.