Top 5 Cases Every Law Student Should Know About

By Mutiara | Last modified 06 Sep 2019
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Top 5 cases every law student should know about

Admit it, encountering eerie and deranged cases is one of the most enjoyable things about studying law.

They go beyond the sheer cases involving noise complaints as they capture human stories to shape public opinions and establish new expectations.

Essentially, cases and judges’ decisions are law students’ staff of life. Here are the top 5 you will come across:

1. R. v. Dudley Stephens (England, 1884)

  • 3 men and a boy were cast away in an open boat at sea following a storm.
  • After many days without food, seeing no rescue in sight, two men killed the boy and feasted on his body.

Issue: Does it count as murder?

Holding: Necessity was the seamen’s defence, but the court rejected and sentenced the two men to death. The necessity of hunger does not justify larceny, let alone murder.

2. Pierson v Post (New York, 1805)

  • Mr.Post, a fox hunter, was chasing a fox.
  • Before Post was able to mortally injure or catch the fox, Mr.Pierson began to chase and eventually catch the same fox.

Issue: Did Pierson trespass Post's property?

Holding: The court decided that merely chasing the wild fox hadn’t given Post the rights to it. This case set the precedent for property rights to possession over wild animals.

3. Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (New York, 1928)

  • A woman was buying a ticket on a train platform when two station officers, in a misguided attempt to help a passenger, accidentally caused a box of fireworks to fall and explode.
  • It caused a set of scales to fall at the other end of the platform which in turn injured the woman.

Issue: Is the train station liable for injury caused to the woman?

Holding: The defendant wasn’t liable to the claimant on the basis that the employees’ actions were not the “proximate cause” of the woman’s injuries.

4. Hawkins v McGee (1929, New Hampshire)

  • A doctor (the defendant) removed scar tissue from Hawkin’s hand that was a result of injury 9 years ago and had no relation to the doctor.
  • The doctor said, “I will guarantee to make the hand a 100% perfect hand or a 100% good hand.”
  • The results were not achieved and a suit was brought.

Issue: Is it a breach of contract and how to calculate damages?

Holding: The court concluded it was a breach and the appropriate damage calculation was the difference between the value of a perfect or good hand and the value of Hawkin’s hand in its present condition.

5. Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (England, 1892)

  • A medical firm advertised that its new wonder drug, a smoke ball, would cure people’s flu, and if it did not, buyers would receive £100.
  • When sued, Carbolic argued the ad was not to be taken as a serious, legally binding offer. It was merely an invitation to treat, and a gimmick.

Issue: Was the language in advertisement regarding the £100 reward meant to be an express promise or a sales puff which had no meaning?

Holding: The court finds the ad to be a binding unilateral offer, which turns it to a contract every customer is entitled to.


Have these wacky and witty cases got you eager to study law?

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  1. Birkbeck
  2. King’s College London
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  6. University College London

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Posted on 17 Jan 2019
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