ALR Student’s Corner: Prosser on Torts

We speak often of legal luminaries at Charlotte School of Law.  All of them reside inside our library.  Their works, ideals, thoughts, and aspirations for our profession are all found on the shelves of our library waiting for your approval or disdain.  


One such great thinker is Dean William L. Prosser; his work Prosser on Torts stands high in the world of treatises [W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts (5th ed. 1984) (call number  KF1250 .P73 1984)].  If you want a complete and thorough understanding of the law of torts and its ramifications on society, pick up this amazing treatise by a true giant in our profession.

Prosser on Torts is laid out in a chapter format, starting with a thorough introduction into the law of torts, winding through the intentional torts, negligence, products liability, privacy, and ending with immunities.   Each of the 25 chapters contains a pithy review of the law accompanied by an often-time acerbic wit.  It is also a fundamental road map to our law and how it was shaped.  Don’t overlook the fact that this book, in earlier editions, contained our nation’s nascent ideas of privacy, well before Griswold and New York Times v. SullivanChapter 20, Privacy, provides an insightful and thorough examination of an area of law that would not come into fashion until 20 years after Prosser’s death.  Yet, his thoughts and words still led our formation of this emerging body of law.

As Prosser notes in his chapter on Privacy, “(p)rior to the year 1890, no English or American court had ever granted relief expressly based upon the invasion of (privacy).  Id. p. 849.  Prosser forwards his argument for recognition of a “right of privacy” by announcing what is now common knowledge among law students: the elements necessary to prove the four privacy torts.  It is in this treatise that we find our common understanding for the elementary constructs of privacy. “It is clear, however, that there must be something in the nature of prying or intrusion, and that mere noises which disturb a church congregation, or bad manners, harsh names, and insulting gestures in public are not enough.  It is clear also that the intrusion must be something which would be offensive or objectionable to a reasonable person.”  Yes, there he is, the root of our most favored of persons: the reasonable man.  We owe it to Prosser.

If you fail to pick up this treatise, you’ll also miss some great quotes that all your older attorney peers have committed to memory long ago.  “Assault and battery go together like ham and eggs.”  Classic Prosser.  “The thing speaks for itself, (referring to the doctrine of res ipsa) but what the hell is it saying.”  You simply can’t miss out on legal explanations like that.

Prosser on Torts is also a great research tool.   Each topic segment contains a list of Westlaw Reference Tools that can be used to find more authority on a given topic.  Id. at 7.  For instance, the Introduction lists “379k1” (Use and Occupation of Realty) as an example of a Digest Topic and Key Number.   Plugging these into Westlaw Classic or WestlawNext will produce a wealth of additional resources to expand your research.   Accompanying this example in Prosser is the following Terms and Connectors Boolean search string: topic(torts) & reasonabl* unreasonabl* /20 interfer! /20 interest*.  This search in Westlaw Classic returns over 450 federal and state cases and numerous secondary sources in the results.  To narrow these, a researcher merely has to restrict by source or jurisdiction or use the “Locate in Results” feature.

Another time saving research tool found in Prosser is the comprehensive appendix.  Appendix A provides a complete, albeit dated, detailed introduction to Westlaw Classic researching methods for specific torts-related searching.  This is a great resource to perfect Boolean searching.  Id. at 1082.  The Index also provides a useful tool when a general topic search is all that is required.  If you know a general topic, the Index will lead you to a treasure trove of sources within the chapters that will prove to be worthy for even the most stingy of research budgets.

Prosser on Torts proves that blind searching with Google or Bing may be “free and easy” but not necessarily free or easy.  Using a treatise to narrow and target your research will likely produce more relevant and efficient results.  The competitive job market demands that we reduce our hours of research and, at the same time, increase the relevancy of our search results.  Pick up and use Prosser on Torts and you may well be on your way to that sought after title of research guru.

~ Adam Thornton, L ‘14 ~

Class Advisor – Cory M. Lenz, Esq.

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