The University of Chicago Press, www.press.uchicago.edu
Exercises from LEGAL WRITING IN PLAIN ENGLISH, Bryan A. Garner

§ 1. Have something to say--and think it through.

Exercises

Begin the following exercises by looking up the cases cited. Then write a casenote for each one--that is, a short case synopsis that follows a standard form: (1) case name and citation; (2) brief facts; (3) question for decision; (4) holding; (5) reasoning. Your finished product should fit on a five-by-seven-inch index card (front and back). The exercises are increasingly challenging for either or both of two reasons: first, the increasing complexity of the legal principles involved; and second, the increasing difficulty of the language used in the opinions. When you're finished, have a friend assess how easy it is to understand what you've written.

Here's an example of a casenote:

Case: Henderson v. Ford Motor Co., 519 S.W.2d 87 (Tex. 1974).

Facts: While driving in city traffic, Henderson found that, despite repeated attempts, she couldn't brake. To avoid injuring anyone, she ran into a pole. An investigator later found that part of a rubber gasket from the air filter had gotten into the carburetor. Henderson sued Ford on various theories, including defective design. Her expert witness didn't criticize the design of the gasket, carburetor, or air filter, but did say that the positioning of the parts might have been better. No one testified that the air-filter housing was unreasonably dangerous from the time of installation. Yet the jury determined that the air-filter housing was defective and that this defect had caused Henderson's damage.

Question: The expert witness didn't testify that the design was unreasonably dangerous--only that it could be improved on. Is this testimony sufficient to support a jury finding that a product's design is unreasonably dangerous?

Holding: Mere evidence that a design could be made better--without evidence that the design itself was unreasonably dangerous--is insufficient to impose liability on a manufacturer.

Reasoning: A person suing on a design defect must provide some evidence that the design of the product made it unreasonably dangerous. Specifically, the evidence must show that a prudent manufacturer who was knowledgeable about the risks would not have placed the particular product in the stream of commerce. Mere speculation that a product might be improved on does not constitute evidence of a design defect. A manufacturer is not required to design the best product scientifically possible.

Basic

Write a casenote for Serrano-Moran v. Grau-Gaztambide, 195 F.3d 68 (1st Cir. 1999). If you belong to a writing group or class, bring a copy of your casenote for each colleague.

Intermediate

Write a casenote for Floudiotis v. State, 726 A.2d 1196 (Del. 1999). If you belong to a writing group or class, bring a copy of your casenote for each colleague.

Advanced

Write a casenote for Atlas Food Systems & Services, Inc. v. Crane National Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587 (4th Cir. 1996). If you belong to a writing group or class, bring a copy of your casenote for each colleague.


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© 2001, Bryan A. Garner

These exercises appear in Bryan A. Garner's Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Exercises, published by The University of Chicago Press and available at bookstores and on the Web at www.press.uchicago.edu.


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