Torts syllabus

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Personal and professional responsibility during this pandemic

  1. As a scholar who studies risk, I take the ongoing covid-19 pandemic very seriously. As a member of this community, I take our responsibility to each other very seriously. As a lawyer, I take the obligations of our profession -- particularly to the more vulnerable and the less powerful -- very seriously. As your professor, I expect that you do as well.
  2. I expect that, unless your medical provider has advised you of a specific contraindication, you have received a full course of the covid-19 vaccine. My expectation is consistent with the Carolina Creed and with South Carolina law, which merely prohibits the University of South Carolina "from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for any student as a condition of enrollment, attendance at on campus instruction, or residence on campus."
  3. I expect that you will cover your nose, mouth, and genitals at all times while you are in my classroom. If there is a medical reason why you cannot wear a mask, you must either speak with me in advance or obtain an explicit accommodation from the Student Disability Resource Center. My expectation is consistent with the current recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the advice of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, with the Carolina Creed, and with South Carolina law, which merely prohibits the University of South Carolina from "requir[ing] that its students have received the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be present at the institution's facilities without being required to wear a facemask." The South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously agrees that this language is entirely consistent with a universal mask mandate.
  4. I expect that you will not attend class physically if you are sick, feel sick, think you might be sick, have been exposed to covid-19, or have reason to believe that your presence could endanger your colleagues. I will work with you on alternative arrangements.
  5. If you have any concerns at any point about the safety, propriety, or practicality of your attendance or participation, I invite you to talk with me. You are not alone. If you qualify for a formal accommodation from the Student Disability Resource Center, I encourage you to seek one. If you do not qualify for a formal accommodation, I will still offer at least as much flexibility as my discretion allows. Furthermore, while the School of Law does have a general attendance policy, I do not have an attendance policy for this course and do not plan to maintain or share records related to your in-person attendance.
  6. I deeply regret that I cannot promise you a learning environment that is reasonably safe or reasonably effective.


  1. My name is Bryant Walker Smith, and you are welcome to call me Bryant. I am delighted to welcome you to the law.
  2. My virtual office hours are by appointment.
  3. You can contact me by email.
  4. My Twitter handle is @bwalkersmith, but this is not a reliable way to reach me.
  5. My bio is here, and my publications are available here. You need not read these.


  1. Alex Ruskell manages the tutoring program.
  2. He or I will share information on your tutor by email.


  1. This course requires (unless you make other arrangements with me):
    1. High-quality masks
    2. Torts (online casebook)
    3. John L. Diamond et al., Understanding Torts (6th Edition 2018)
    4. A computer that meets the law school's requirements
    5. Access to reliable high-speed Internet
    6. A webcam
    7. A headset with both a microphone and either headphones or earphones (e.g.,
    8. Access to a high-capacity printer
  2. You must bring your laptop to every class session, but you may use your laptop in class only when directed to do so.
  3. Materials that are recommended but not required include:
    1. Black's Law Dictionary (also available online through the legal research services you can freely access as a law student)
    2. Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul, Getting to Maybe (1999)
    3. A personal air purifier such as this one


  1. You should expect to spend between 16 and 20 hours a week on this course. Class sessions are only part of this course. The majority of your work, including most of your readings and other individual assignments, some team exercises, and all self-directed study, will take place outside of them.
  2. Our regular class sessions are Monday through Thursday from 3:10pm to 4:10pm in the Hon. Karen J. Williams Courtroom (room 103).
  3. Some class sessions will be outdoors. Please speak with me if you have severe allergies or other concerns.
  4. Some class sessions will be on Zoom. I will share Zoom meeting information by email.


  1. This course has three overlapping areas of substantive focus:
    1. The first introduces basic legal concepts and skills.
    2. The second, which takes most of the semester, involves a deep dive into the tort of negligence so that you can begin to appreciate the complexity of law.
    3. The third introduces you to nearly all the other torts so that you can recognize these torts and teach yourself more about them as needed.
  2. For specific topics, refer to the Torts course page.
  3. Throughout the semester, pay particular attention to key themes that appear repeatedly. Take three examples:
    1. Tort law often expresses the norms of the dominant community, including in ways that reflect bias and perpetuate injustice.
    2. Effective legal advocacy often involves framing: Like an accordion player, a lawyer can accurately but strategically advance characterizations that are either broad or narrow.
    3. Careful examination often exposes the tension between neat models and messy realities.
  4. Again, these are just three examples. Many others are waiting for you to discover them. This is because identifying, expressing, and reflecting on key themes is an important part of your active learning.


  1. Understand tort rules and the contexts in which they operate.
  2. Appreciate the systemic and individual consequences of these rules.
  3. Formulate, defend, challenge, extend, limit, distinguish, and apply case holdings.
  4. Identify and analyze potential tort claims and defenses.
  5. Navigate uncertainty, ambiguity, and inconsistency.
  6. Read, listen, think, write, talk, and behave like a competent lawyer.


  1. Try!
  2. Prepare.
  3. Respect others.
  4. Challenge yourself.
  5. Comply with the honor code.
  6. Behave like the lawyer you will become.
  7. If you have concerns (general or specific), talk with me.

Why law school is different

  1. You are responsible for your own learning.
  2. You are learning a foreign language: legal knowledge plus legal thinking.
  3. Confusion and frustration are part of that learning.
  4. My role is to guide you and challenge you.
  5. You are responsible for your own learning.

Sensitivity of subject matter

  1. Recognize and respect that your colleagues’ experiences may be different than your own.
  2. Some students may be personally familiar with the kinds of tragedies present in our materials and exercises.
  3. Some students may be personally familiar with the kinds of individual and structural biases present in our materials and exercises.
  4. We will all make mistakes.
  5. If you have concerns about any material or topic, I invite you to talk with me.


  1. You must be fully prepared prior to class.
  2. You may not participate in any class session or other course activity while driving.
  3. During class, you may engage in activities conducive to your learning and participation, including communications that are relevant to our discussion.
  4. During class, you may not engage in activities that are distracting to you or your classmates, including communications that are irrelevant to our discussion.
  5. Familial obligations are an exception to this last rule: While I strongly encourage you to arrange for the care of your dependents during class time, I recognize that this is not always practical, and I support your efforts to balance these multiple responsibilities.

Recordings and visitors

  1. I will record our class sessions this semester.
  2. You may record a class session only with my written permission or the written permission of the Student Disability Resource Center.
  3. You may access a class recording only for your own education.
  4. You may share a class recording only with my written permission.
  5. You may invite another adult to attend a class only with my written permission.


  1. Grades will be based on your (a) final exam performance, (b) preparation and participation, and (c) professionalism.
  2. The mean grade for the course will, absent extraordinary circumstances, fall between 2.7 and 3.0 points (Law Student Handbook Section VIII(D)(2)(b)).

Final exam

  1. The final exam is an imperfect assessment of your understanding of (a) tort law and its context, (b) your ability to reason, analyze, and argue, and (c) your ability to communicate effectively and appropriately. It draws on (a) all assignments (even if not discussed in class) and (b) all class discussions (even if not covered in the assignments).
  2. The registrar will announce exam procedures later in the semester. This exam is subject to a strict word limit. You may use inanimate materials, but you may not use any animate resources other than yourself. You are likely to find that the only materials that help you on the exam are those that you have made or already read, understood, reviewed, and used.
  3. A useful book for law school exams is "Getting to Maybe." See the recommended course materials.


  1. Preparation means:
    1. Completing all assignments, including readings and exercises.
    2. Briefing all assigned cases using the required format and taking other appropriate notes.
    3. Reflecting on each assignment and relating it to larger course themes.
    4. Preparing the materials that you need to meaningfully engage in class.
    5. Reviewing assignments and discussions after each class.
  2. Prior assignments may be discussed in later classes.


  1. During class sessions, you should expect to be called on, show that you are prepared, respect your colleagues, and challenge yourself.
  2. The structure of our sessions will vary. In general, however:
    1. When I direct a question to you, have a conversation with me. Tell me what you are thinking. If you are unsure of the question, state what you understood and then ask for clarification; do not ask me to repeat it. If you have difficulty answering, start by saying what you do know, what you do not know, and what makes the question difficult. Expect to struggle: You are here to learn!
    2. When I direct a question to another student, do not publicly answer that question or privately supply an answer to that student. You should, however, think about how you would answer that question and about what you or I might ask next.
    3. When I ask for volunteers, volunteer. You can do so by raising your hand.
    4. When you have an urgent clarificatory or explanatory question, raise both hands.
    5. When you are working in a breakout group, focus on the assigned task for the entire time and redirect any conversation that wanders.
  3. For notetaking, you may wish to:
    1. Be selective: Only write in class what you cannot write before or after.
    2. Highlight gaps and errors in the notes you have prepared for class.
    3. Identify key points, major issues, recurring themes, new questions, and points of confusion so that later you can develop them further.
    4. Allocate ten minutes immediately after class to continue taking notes.
    5. Review and refine your notes the same day that you take them.
  4. Your participation in this course also includes your participation in required activities outside of these class sessions.

Community norms

  1. Student Handbook Section VIII(B) contains our law school's honor code. Read it, know it, and comply with it.
  2. Students who commit to the Carolina Creed "oppose intolerance by promoting integrity within our campus community."


  1. You deserve equal access and opportunity.
  2. You may, but you need not, speak with me about your SDRC-directed accommodations.

Interpersonal violence and mandatory reporting

  1. You deserve to be safe.
  2. Confidential reporting officers can provide confidential and anonymous support.
  3. All other employees (including faculty) must report incidents of sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and partner or relationship violence to the university’s Title IX Coordinator.

Wellness generally

  1. Law school is stressful, and the practice of law is stressful. Your physical, mental, and emotional health matters.
  2. If you are lonely, scared, desperate, insecure, or unsure, you are not alone. Please reach out. Every semester I hear from students in crisis.
  3. Our law school, university, and community have people who care about you and resources that are available to you. These include:
    1. Our in-house counselor, who provides free mental health support services to the law school community.
    2. Our Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Affairs.
    3. Food pantries at our law school (room 106), university, and community.
    4. Our university's crisis hotline (+1-803-777-5223), counseling services, and other mental health resources.
    5. A specialized team dedicated to helping people you identify as potentially in need.
    6. Lawyers Helping Lawyers (+1-855-321-4384).
    7. An expansive network of creative and connected people throughout the state and country.
    8. And many others.
  4. For people in their early 20s, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death. Aggressive, distracted, drowsy, and intoxicated driving are unlawful and irresponsible. Jokes that trivialize texting-while-driving are not funny. We owe better to each other.
  5. Please take care of yourself and others. Prepare now by visiting MyHealthSpace.