Torts syllabus 2020



  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 office hours are generally after class and, for private matters, 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 at here, and my publications are available here. You absolutely need not read these.



  1. This course requires (unless you make other arrangements with me):
    1. A computer that meets the law school's requirements
    2. Access to reliable high-speed Internet
    3. A webcam
    4. A headset with both a microphone and either headphones or earphones (e.g.,
    5. Either two full screens (e.g., two monitors, two computers, or a computer plus a tablet) or access to a high-capacity printer
    6. John L. Diamond et al., Understanding Torts (6th Edition 2018)
  2. 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)


  1. This course is entirely online (primarily through Blackboard) with no in-person expectations whatsoever.
  2. Our course site is at ("Torts LAWS529-004-FALL-2020").
  3. The virtual classroom is open 24/7 and includes video/voice/text chat, discussion forums, and peer-generated content.
  4. Virtual study rooms are also open 24/7 and have the same features.
  5. You should expect to spend between 16 and 20 hours a week on this course. Class sessions (see below) 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.

Class sessions

  1. Our regular class sessions are Monday through Thursday from 2:00pm to 3:00pm in our virtual classroom, which is available under "Classroom" in the Blackboard menu. Exceptions will be posted on Blackboard.
  2. Class will begin promptly at 2:00 pm. At that point, unless you have made other arrangements with me, your camera should be on and your microphone should be unmuted.
  3. To ensure that your connection works and your settings are correct, I recommend that you try out the classroom a week before our first class, join the classroom 30 minutes before this first class, and then join the classroom at least 5 minutes before each subsequent class.
  4. Shortly after the start of most sessions, I will ask you to mute your microphone and turn off your camera until I call on you. You should re-mute your microphone only after we have completed our exchange, and you should keep your camera on until the next person speaks (even if you have finished speaking).
  5. I recommend that you use Blackboard's "Follow the Speaker" mode, which you can toggle in the top right of the main frame.
  6. To learn more about the features of our virtual classroom, see our law school's tutorial.

Virtual community

  1. You are welcome to get involved in our virtual community on Blackboard. For example:
    1. You can hang out in our classroom anytime. It's open 24/7, and I will stay around after many of our class sessions.
    2. You can discuss logistical questions, substantive questions, practice problems, torts in the news, and other topics.
    3. You can collaborate with your colleagues to create and share a course outline, case briefs, a list of course themes, checklists for the exam, and other study materials.
    4. You can start, join, and manage a study group.
    5. You can send messages to specific people.
    6. You can participate in tutoring. Our tutor will share more information as the law school makes it available.
  2. Ensure that both (a) your Blackboard profile and (b) your Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (i.e., virtual classroom) profile contain an icon that represents you. It can be a photo or drawing or your face, or it can be something else that represents you.

Break-the-glass plan

  1. My plan is for Blackboard, the Internet, and our computers to work. But things don't always go according to plan. In fact, tort law is largely about things that don't -- and so it necessarily involves second-best solutions.
  2. Similarly, we have a variety of second-best solutions for this course. Print or save this section now in case you cannot access Blackboard later.
  3. For our class sessions:
    1. If your Internet service is down during a class session, you may still be able to join the class by phone. This is only an emergency option. It is no substitute for class attendance and participation via our virtual classroom.
    2. If you must miss a class session, the law school will make a recording available to you. This is also no substitute for class attendance and participation via our virtual classroom.
    3. If Blackboard experiences a systematic outage, we will conduct our class sessions on another service called Webex. If your Internet access is also down, you can join Webex by phone.
    4. If none of these are working, please await further instructions from me by email.
    5. Finally, if you do not hear from me, complete as much of the post-class assignment as you can. This typically includes reading the sections of "Understanding Torts" that correspond to our class topics. If nothing else, refer to the table of contents in that book.
  4. For course assignments and administration:
    1. If Blackboard experiences a long-term systematic outage, I will shift some aspects of this course, including assignments, to another service called TWEN.
    2. To prepare, visit TWEN, use the Westlaw login information supplied by the law school during orientation, and join "Torts Backup (Bryant Walker Smith)."


  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 overview under Assignments in Blackboard.
  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. Our school plans to record classes this semester.
  2. You may access class recordings for your own education.
  3. You may share a class recording only with my written permission.
  4. You may invite another adult to attend a class only with my written permission.
  5. Your pets are welcome provided they do not distract you or others.
  6. I have a cat.


  1. Grades will be based on your (a) final exam performance, (b) preparation, and (c) participation.
  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. Make sure your mic is unmuted for our full exchange. 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 using Blackboard's "Raise Hand" function (on the bottom of the main frame).
    4. When I ask you to participate on Blackboard (by, for example, answering a poll or typing in the chat), do so promptly.
    5. When you are working in a breakout group, focus on the assigned task for the entire time and redirect any conversation that wanders.
    6. When you have an urgent clarificatory or explanatory question, use Blackboard's "Raise Hand" function (on the bottom of the main frame).
    7. When you have question or comment that is not urgent (e.g., "What if...?"), use Blackboard's chat function (on the right side of the main frame).
  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. I may recognize your participation in voluntary course-related activities, particularly your contributions to those discussion boards and peer-generated materials that are available to the entire class; that participation will not adversely affect your grade unless it involves or evidences a violation of the honor code.


  1. You must give advance notice of any class for which you will be absent or unprepared by sending a blank message before 10:00am on the day of class to the respective addresses. As you are professionals, no reason is needed. Late notice is better than no notice.
  2. Please remember that, in accordance with Student Handbook Section IV(C), you must also maintain your own detailed attendance records. Good lawyers keep good documentation.

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.


  1. As a professor who studies risk, I take this pandemic very seriously.
  2. Our course requires no in-person interaction whatsoever, and any in-person interaction that arises out of this course must be voluntary, accommodate virtual participation, and accord with all university policies on health checks, personal protective equipment, and physical distancing.
  3. A student who violates this or any pandemic-related requirement violates the honor code, even where that violation is not directly connected to this course. However, I will not consider a disclosure made for the purpose of contact tracing or otherwise in the interest of health or safety to evidence such a violation.
  4. For information on our institutional response, see our university site and our law school site. To review or take the Columbia Community pledge, visit IPledgeColumbia. To update your relevant medical information and ensure that you have access to university health resources, visit MyHealthSpace. The university's COVID-19 hotline is +1-803-576-8511.
  5. If COVID-19 further strains our health care system, it will become especially important to reduce other burdens on our first responders and medical professionals. For people in their early 20s, motor vehicle crashes remain 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.

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, 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), [1] university, and community.
    4. Our university's crisis hotline (+1-803-777-5223) and counseling services.
    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. Please take care of yourself and others. And prepare now by visiting MyHealthSpace.