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Clifford Tucker Guest Lectures at Brooklyn Law School on Negligence Law

Every time I guest lecture or visit Brooklyn Law School, I have a great time and learn.  Law students can help show the community’s feelings about legal concepts without bias towards a client or institution.  Law students have no bias for a client, do not have to worry about bar complaints, and don’t work in law firm or with judges.  Even their exams are graded anonymously.  In class, they are independent voices.  Plus they haven’t yet spent years working within the legal system which shapes a person’s perspective. They are fresh, interested, and free perspectives.  In those ways, they resemble a jury.  They can be the conscience of the legal community.  When we do away with juries, we can lose that perspective of people outside the legal institutions of law firms and the government.  We risk losing what law is really about, society and one another, not just resolving disputes and keeping order.

Question and Answer vs. Answer and Question

In undergraduate school and high school, the teacher explains the information and students absorb it.  Conversely, in law school’s Socratic method, the lecturer asks students questions and encourages them to discuss issues.  As I asked questions, I spent as much time listening to students as they spent listening to me.  Students explain what they expect from the law, their reactions to concepts within cases, and how they might seek redress for a wrong or defend against a claim.  The law is for the community.  It cannot exist without more than one person.

Elements of Negligence Law

We discussed Walter v Wal-Mart. In that case, Wal-Mart violated its internal rules as well as the legal standard of care when it filled a patient’s prescription with the wrong drug.  The patient suffered a serious injury which required surgery, a lengthy hospital stay, and diminished the quality of her life.  The case is standard in law school textbooks to introduce students to each element of the claim of negligence.  Although the case seemed clear on its face (Mrs. Walter won), we used the class to discuss the basic concepts behind negligence law and how the law connects to each person who relies on pharmacies to fill prescriptions correctly.

Here are some of the questions I asked the class and some of the students’ answers:

Think about these questions and why they show that we all rely on the negligence law staying strong.

Q: Why do you expect the pharmacy to fill the prescription right?
A: “Trust. I trust them to do their job”
Q: Why do you trust them?
A: “They hold themselves out as a pharmacy selling drugs. They’re making money. They’re licensed and supposed to be professionals.”
Q: What do you think a trustworthy pharmacy should do to make sure the patients are safe and get the right drug?
A: “Double check the prescription”
A: “Read the script”
A: “Discuss the medicine with the patient”
A: “Call the doctor”
A: “Follow the rules.”
Q: What do you expect from your pharmacy when you go?
A: “To get the right drug”
Q: How do you know the wrong drug is what hurt Mrs. Walter and not something else?
A: “You might find out from the doctor”
A: “What about another pharmacist, they could say.”
A: “Or maybe the wrong drug has side effects and you could see those.”
A: “Her doctors later must have diagnosed how she got hurt. They said it was the wrong drug.”
Q: I know many of you said you understand why people are compensated for their medical expenses and lost wages but why do you think the law says people are compensated for non-economic damages?  For their pain, suffering, and lost enjoyment of life? 
A: “Well, it’s about your dignity. Your personal respect.”
A: “It’s who you are as a person. You’re not just your job and medical bills.”
A: “You shouldn’t get nothing for losing things that were outside of work but had value to you. Like things you liked to do.”

Contact Information

That was just a small part of the class, but hopefully it shows the kinds of questions that spur thinking in the community about legal concepts.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact us.