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Resources for Research on Tort Law in Michigan
(June 1999)

By Barbara H. Goldman

Tort law goes back to the earliest days of the Anglo-American legal system, so there is no shortage of research resources on the subject. Your biggest problem may be when to stop looking.

For Michigan law, you can't go wrong by beginning with the two-volume ICLE Torts (2d ed) book, expressly geared toward the Michigan practitioner. You will find the elements of every common tort, and some less-common ones, discussed, together with sample complaints, interrogatories and forms. Be sure, however, that you have reviewed the latest supplement, as this is an area subject to rapid changes in the state of the law. Although slightly less user-friendly, White's Michigan Torts 2d (Lawyers Coop, 1996) is also a good reference source.

Another valuable Michigan series is Callaghan's Michigan Civil Jurisprudence (Lawyers Coop), a multi-volume set available in most law libraries. The index is detailed enough that you can probably find what you're looking for, if it's there, but you can also browse through the text and be reasonably confident you've covered a subject area when you're done. Callaghan's also has the virtue of including cases that date even to the first year of Michigan Reports (1850), which are easy to overlook if you rely entirely on modern sources.

You will, of course, need to move on to case law itself, so you'll want to turn to Callaghan's Michigan Digest or West's Michigan Digest as your next step. In West, many individual torts appear in the word index, but there are tricks of the trade you'll learn if you consult it often. For example, issues of duty are treated in ''Negligence'' _ 2; vicarious liability is under ''Master & Servant'' __ 300-313; and most traffic accident cases appear in the ''Autos'' topic. If you have the opportunity to do this phase of your research via CD-ROM, seize it immediately; you can save hours of reviewing case abstracts, and you may find cases in topic areas you wouldn't have thought to search. Of course, the same applies to on-line research via Westlaw or Lexis. [1]

You can also do some ''on-line'' research over the Internet. Both the State Bar of Michigan website ( and the ICLE site provide access to recent Michigan opinions and links to numerous other sources of law. If you subscribe to Michigan Lawyers Weekly, it, too, offers a searchable database; if you want or need unpublished opinions, this is the only place to find them.

If Michigan law doesn't provide what you need, your next move should be to check out the classic hornbook, Prosser & Keeton on Torts (4th ed), a commentary that has risen to almost the level of primary authority. The index is regrettably meager, so you may be reduced to combing the table of contents and reading the parts of the text that look relevant, but there is a high probability that what you want will be in there somewhere. If you need more detail, however, you should turn to the four-volume Law of Torts (3rd ed) by Harper, James & Gray (Little Brown)[2] or the extensive American Law of Torts by Speiser, Krause & Gans (Clark Boardman Callaghan, 1993). Another source of authority is the Second Restatements of Torts. The main text is dated, but there are extended ''Appendix'' volumes, as well as annual supplements. The annotations can send you to cases where courts explicitly adopted the Restatement as their own ''black-letter'' law.

Finally, there are texts, source books, looseleaf reporters and the like, too numerous to mention, on virtually every specialty, from aviation to toxic torts. Your local law librarian will be happy to help you search them out.


1 Westlaw and Lexis are not always up-to-the-minute, despite their electronic format. It can sometimes be two weeks before an opinion gets into the system, particularly a Supreme Court opinion. To be sure you have the most recent rulings on a subject, you need to check the current and two or three preceding issues of Michigan Lawyers Weekly, or an equivalent span in another publication.

2 There is also an updated second edition, published by Aspen Law & Business.

Barbara H. Goldman is an attorney in private practice in Detroit. This article was prepared on behalf of the Libraries, Legal Resources and Publications Committee of the State Bar of Michigan.



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