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What is the Restatement of Torts?

Toni Henthorn
Toni Henthorn

The Restatement of Torts, Second and the Restatement of Torts, Third are authoritative bodies of work that encapsulate the basic principles of United States tort law. They are part of a series of volumes, called the Restatements of the Law, that are produced by the American Law Institute (ALI), a group of distinguished attorneys, law professors, and judges. These volumes are legal commentary, which were drafted over many years by various ALI committees. After intensive review of tort cases and identification of new developments, the committees summarized the data into standard legal rules. Although the Restatement of Torts volumes do not constitute fundamental law, many courts treat them as reliable sources of clarification, illustration, and explanation of tort laws in the U.S.

A revision of the original Restatement of Torts, the Restatement of Torts, Second consists of four main volumes and 26 appendix volumes. Published in 1965, the series covers intentional invasions of interest, negligence, strict liability, product liability, and misrepresentation. Other subjects include defamation, privacy, and interference with domestic or economic relations. Its comprehensive coverage of the complex area of products liability in Section 402A shaped and transformed products liability law for three decades.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Published in 1998, the Restatement of Torts, Third replaces and expands on Section 402A of the preceding series regarding product liability. This more recent series divides product liability cases into three categories — design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning defects. Design defects occur when the product design produces foreseeable chances of injury to a consumer, especially when an alternative design could have reduced those risks. Manufacturing defects are situations in which the product varied from its intended design, and the variance produced harm. Warning defects occur in cases in which an instruction or warning could have reduced or eliminated risks of injury.

The most recent restatement lists the rules that cover the liability of product sellers when the product is defective at the time of sale or after the sale. It also discusses the responsibilities and potential liability of a successor when he purchases a business. Additional topics include the establishment of causation, apportionment of responsibility, waivers, and disclaimers. The treatise formulates separate rules and legal standards of conduct for the various categories of product liability.

Attorneys and courts apply the restatements in a variety of ways. Lawyers often support their legal pleadings with citations from the restatements. Courts can search for relevant, significant cases in the same jurisdiction that also broach the questions before them. Legal researchers can obtain the restatements in print format or read them online.

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