Tort Law: Primary Sources

Posted June 24, 2014.
Prepared by Taryn Marks, law librarianship intern.

This guide identifies useful sources for researching general tort law questions. It includes print and online, free and commercial sources.

Tort law encompasses several different types of actions. Their common features include a type of personal injury, civil in nature, for which the injured party may receive monetary damages. See the Tort entry in Cornell's Legal Information Institute's Wex encyclopedia.

HeinOnline and Nexis Uni are available to visitors of the Gallagher Law Library and to University of Washington students, faculty, and staff remotely. [UW Restricted]. Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw are available to individuals with passwords and IDs. See Access to Bloomberg Law, Lexis & Westlaw.

See also the companion Gallagher guide: Tort Law: Secondary Sources.



Tort law is primarily state-based. That is, each state has its own laws on various types of tort actions. Examples include assault and battery, automobile accidents, civil rights violations, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, medical malpractice, personal injury, trespass, unlawful arrest, and wrongful death.

Washington State

Washington, like all other states, has enacted a variety of laws on torts.

See the Gallagher guide on Finding Washington State Laws for information on the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which includes torts and other laws currently in force. Annotated versions of the RCW are available on Lexis and Westlaw.


The Federal Tort Claims Act can be found at 28 U.S.C. Chap. 171.

The text of the law--plus references to court opinions, law review articles, and other secondary sources--are found in the U.S. Code Annotated (Westlaw) and the U.S. Code Service (Lexis and Nexis Uni). Reference Area, KF62



There are many, many ways to locate cases on a particular topic.

To identify cases applying or interpreting a specific law, consult the annotated code--such as the Revised Code of Washington Annotated--for the state. References to cases are among the most useful annotations in these codes.

You may also conduct a KeyCite (Westlaw) or Shepard's (Lexise and Nexis Uni) if you have the citation to one case. These services both trace the history of the case to which have a citation and later cases that have referred to your case. search once you have located the statutory provision. Cases about the statute will be listed as citing references. See the Gallagher guide on Online Citators for more information.


You can use one of several approaches to locate cases in Westlaw:

  1. Search a single jurisdiction using keywords
  2. Search multiple jurisdictions using keywords
  3. Search for Products Liability Cases
  4. Search by Key Number
    1. Torts (k379)
      • In General, k101-k150
      • Prima Facie Tort, k151-k199
      • Tortious Interference, k200-k324
      • Privacy and Publicity, k325-k419
      • Other Miscellaneous Torts, k420-k456


Browse Topics > Torts.  Then follow the instructions below to further limit your search. 


50-State Law Surveys

Comparisons and descriptions of the states' laws on torts are found in several sources. Here are some compilations.

Title Source
Defamation Lexis Advance > 50 State Surveys
Employee Duty of Loyalty: A State-by-State Survey Classified Stacks, KF3197.Z95 E47 1995
Medical Liability/Medical Malpractice Laws National Conference of State Legislatures
Medical Malpractice Cases, Punitive Damages in WestlawNext (Punitive Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases)
Medical Malpractice Statutes of Limitations WestlawNext (0020 SURVEYS 15)
Negligence WestlawNext (0020 SURVEYS 28)
Products Liability Lexis Advance > 50 State Surveys
Products Liability WestlawNext (0020 SURVEYS 29)
Tort Reform WestlawNext (0020 SURVEYS 30)

For a much larger number of sources on a wide variety of torts (and other topics) see Subject Compilations of State Laws, an annual annotated bibliography of articles, books, court briefs and opinions, government publications, and websites that identify, compare, and/or describe all of the states' laws, by topic.
Reference Office, KF1.S93 (last 3 volumes) & HeinOnline


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