Hogwarts Torts

Originally appeared in the November 2000 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Hogwarts Torts


Like many adults who were less than pleased to receive the news that they were expected to actually grow up one day, I love Harry Potter. For readers who have been heavily sedated or in trial for the past several years, Harry is the protagonist in J.K. Rowling’s bestselling books about a remarkable young wizard somewhere in England.

Why is Harry so remarkable? Two reasons. First, he saved the entire wizarding world while only a tot. Second, never in the history of education has a student been subject to as much tortious conduct as Harry Potter at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Harry finally got fed up and sought legal advice. In an amazing Harmless Error exclusive, here are the actual notes the solicitor took during the initial client interview:

Client. Harry Potter. Resides at number 4, Privet Drive (note possible separate action against aunt and uncle for false imprisonment). Insists all law office correspondence be delivered by overnight . . . owl?

Defendants. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Location: kept secret, probably to avoid service of process. Individual defendants include entire faculty, fellow students Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, and some chap named Voldemort, a/k/a You Know Who, d/b/a He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Premises liability. Defendant maintains the premises in an unreasonably dangerous condition, in breach of its duty to client, an invitee. Hazards include dungeons, trapdoors, a willow tree that beats people senseless, trolls, three-headed dogs, toxic potions, trick stairs into which students disappear, and a forbidden forest adjacent to the premises containing attractive nuisances such as werewolves, dementors and dark lords.

Gross negligence. Defendant sponsored a school competition known as the Triwizard Tournament, into which client was entered involuntarily. Rather than compete in age-appropriate contests such as three-legged races, participants were required to fight dragons, swim under freezing water for more than one hour, and negotiate a maze filled with monsters, hexes and curses.

Strict liability for keeping dangerous animals. Rubeus Hagrid, teacher of a required course in Care of Magical Creatures, shows conscious indifference to the welfare of Hogwarts students by recklessly exposing them to vicious animals, including most recently, Blast-Ended Screwts, which client describes as “ten-foot long, armored creatures with stingers, suckers and fire-blasting ends.”

Infliction of emotional distress. Professor Sibyll Trelawney, at all times acting within the scope of her employment as Hogwarts teacher of Divination, has engaged in a pattern of extreme and outrageous conduct intended to induce severe emotional distress in client by repeatedly prophesying his imminent and hideous death.

Assault. Upon client’s arrival for 4th year, one “Peeves” caused imminent apprehension of harmful bodily contact by dropping water balloons on client from the top of a magical staircase. Defendant has allowed Peeves to reside on the premises for hundreds of years despite full knowledge that he is a poltergeist with violent and malicious tendencies.

Products liability. Defendant knows or should know that two students—Fred and George Weasley—operate a business on school premises specializing in the manufacture of defective products such as Ton-Tongue Toffee and Canary Creams, the only utility of which is to cause laughter while consumer suffers gross tongue engorgement or feather sprouting.

Damages. Emotional trauma and permanent disfigurement (nasty scar on forehead).

Disposition. Bloke doesn’t want to sue! Only seeking advice on licensing his celebrity right of publicity. Referred him to Gilderoy Lockhart’s solicitor for advice.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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