By Ben L, Fernandez, Legal Skills Professor
University of Florida Levin College of Law
IRAC is an acronym for Issue, Rule, Application and Conclusion. I imagine every law school in America teaches its students to use some variation of IRAC as the structure for analyzing a legal issue. And IRAC works fine if the analysis is simple, like this:
The issue in this case is whether Supermarket Corp. was responsible for maintaining the premises in reasonably safe condition.
A basic tenet of premises liability in tort law is those who own or control property have a duty to maintain it in safe condition. Oliveri v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authority, 363 Mass. 165, 167 (1973).
Supermarket Corp. was the owner of the property where the accident occurred, and was also in control of the store on the premises.
Therefore Supermarket Corp. was responsible for maintaining the premises in reasonably safe condition.
The problem with IRAC is most legal reasoning is not that simple. Society doesn’t need lawyers to analyze legal problems that can be deduced from a general rule. The problems lawyers are most often tasked with analyzing involve analogical reasoning. We analogize or distinguish fact patterns to determine whether and how the rule applies. So the “A” in IRAC isn’t usually as simple as applying the rule to the facts. We need to compare the facts of the fact pattern to the facts of a similar case. And IRAC doesn’t give the students much guidance on how to structure the application portion of the analysis.
When I teach IRAC as a form for analyzing a legal issue, I tell students to start with the issue and the rule, then apply the rule by giving an example of how the rule was applied in a reported case. To do the application part of IRAC, start with the facts of the case, describe the holding, and explain the reasoning for the court’s decision. Then state the fact pattern is analogous, compare the facts to highlight the similarities, apply the rule of the case, and come to a conclusion. The mnemonic I use to help students remember that structure is “Ferrari Has Really Fast Race Cars,” which stands for Facts, Holding, Reasoning, Facts, Rule and Conclusion.
Here is an example of what an analysis would look like using this formula:
The issue in this case is whether evidence of dirty brown wax beans and black strawberries on the floor of a supermarket is enough to show the property owner breached the owner’s duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition.
“Where a foreign substance on a floor or stairway causes the business visitor to fall and sustain injuries, he may prove the negligence of the defendant by proof that . . . the foreign substance was present on the defendant’s premises for such a length of time that the defendant should have known about it.” Oliveri v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authority, 363 Mass. 165, 167 (1973).
Application: Facts (Ferrari)
For example, in Anjou v. Boston Elevated Ry. Co., 208 Mass. 273 (1911) the plaintiff slipped and fell on a banana peel. According to witness who had examined it, the banana peel “’felt dry, gritty, as if there were dirt upon it,’ as if ‘trampled over a good deal,’ as ‘flattened down, and black in color,’ ‘every bit of it was black, there wasn’t a particle of yellow,’ and as ‘black, flattened out and gritty.’” Id.
Application: Holding (Has)
Based on that evidence, the court held that “[t]he inference might have been drawn from the appearance and condition of the banana peel that it had been upon the platform a considerable period of time, in such position that it would have been seen and removed by the employees of the defendant if they had been reasonably careful in performing their duty.” Id.
Application: Reasoning (Really)
A banana peel is perishable. It decays over time and turns black. Therefore, if a banana peel looks black and gritty, it is reasonable to infer it’s been sitting for a while.
Application: Facts (Fast)
This case is analogous. The customers in both cases slipped and fell on perishable substances. Wax beans and strawberries, like bananas, are perishable. After the passage of time, beans turn brown and strawberries turn black, just like bananas turn black when they decay.
Application: Rule (Race)
For the same reason it is reasonable to infer a black banana peel has been on the floor for a substantial length of time, it is also reasonable to infer dirty brown beans and black strawberries have been on the floor for a long time.
Application / Conclusion (Cars)
Based on the evidence, the store owner in this case should have known of unsafe condition and either cleaned it up or warned customers of its existence. By failing to do either, the owner breached the duty of reasonable care.
Evidence of dirty brown wax beans and black strawberries on the floor of a supermarket is enough to show the property owner breached the owner’s duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition.
Ferrari Has Really Fast Race Cars. To apply a rule by making an analogy, start with the Facts of an analogous case, and the case citation. Then state what the court Held, and explain the court’s Reasoning. Insert a paragraph break and state the fact pattern is analogous. Then compare the Facts of the fact pattern to the facts of the case. Apply the Rule to the fact pattern the same way the court applied it in the case. And come to a Conclusion.