What is a Tort? Law Definition & Liability Examples

Since most television shows and movies have to make the legal system look exciting, the shows we see depict the law as mysterious because the hero of the story is always investigating some heinous crime and looking for a killer of that crime.

Most people probably never heard of the word Tort, and if they do hear it, they probably think its some kind of pastry. Tort law is a branch of civil law that is concerned with civil wrongs, but not contract actions. Contracts are when both parties agree on the same thing. Tort law imposes the duty to act with caution when it is possible to injure another or cause injury to another’s property. This law requires all people to act reasonably when conducting our lives.

Torts are intentional, negligent, or strict liability. The most common tort done today is accidental, usually caused by the negligent use of an automobile. When a person drives, he or she is responsible to operate the vehicle in a safe manor. Failure to use proper or reasonable care in the operation of that vehicle is a breach of duty, and if it causes injury to another person, it is a tort.

Intentional torts are crimes because of the harm done by one person to another. Assault and battery or medical wrongs are included in tort laws. The injured party may file suit for the injury suffered and then becomes a plaintiff against the defendant who has injured him/her. Two types of damages may be recovered in a civil tort suit: compensatory damages and punitive damages, however, some states do not allow punitive damages in tort actions.

Compensatory damages are awarded to cover the actual monetary loss suffered by the plaintiff. Usually paying to repair or restore property damages. If the damages occurred were personal, then compensatory damages would also cover medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and cover an estimated loss of future earnings. A strict liability tort exists even though the person acted with extreme caution and did not intend to cause harm.

For example, say a demolition company is taking down a building with dynamite strategically placed as not to damage the property around the building. Even though they were very careful, when the building came down it damaged the one beside it.

Differences between criminal law and civil law are many. In civil law the person who brings the lawsuit (plaintiff), is the person who was injured. For example, say you go to a store and seek the help of a clerk. The clerk has just had a fight with her boyfriend and seeing you reminds her of him. She gets angry all over again and takes it out on you by throwing the object you asked for at you and it hits you in the head causing a cut requiring stitches. That clerk has just committed an assault on you and you take her to court to pay for medical bills, loss of wages, and pain and suffering.

This is a tort civil law case, the only punishment the clerk receives has to pay you for hitting you, but she will not go to jail. Criminal law would occur if you called the police on the clerk and she was arrested. Then it would be brought to the attention of a prosecuting attorney and s/he decides whether to press charges or not. If charges are filed, then it becomes the state charging her, as in state v. clerk.

These are just a few small examples of tort laws.

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