Civil Tort Law

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What is Civil Tort Law?

Civil tort law is that branch of law that deals with breaches of civil duties, rather than a contractual duty or a general societal duty. Although many violations may be classified as either a tort or a crime, there are some major differences between a tort and crime. Crimes are typically prosecuted by the state, whereas any citizen who has been injured can file a lawsuit for tort. 

In a tort cause of action, the person who violates tort laws is called a “tortfeasor.” The party that has suffered the tortious injury may then be entitled to receive damages if they succeed in court. Damages usually take the form of monetary compensation for the injuries that the victim has received. 

Tort laws define what types of legal injuries may be claimed in a civil court. Tort injuries are not limited to physical harm- they may also include economic, emotional, or even injuries to one’s reputation. A person may also recover damages for violations of rights, such as property, privacy, or constitutional rights. 

Thus, civil tort claims can form the basis for a very wide variety of legal claims. 

What Types of Lawsuits Involve Civil Tort Laws?

Civil tort claims may be classified into three basic categories: Intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability torts. Each of these is associated with different standards of proof, remedies, and defenses. The vast majority of tort claims are based on negligence. 

An intentional tort occurs where the tortfeasor acts knowingly and willfully to injure the victim. Although there are many, many kinds of intentional torts, some of the most commonly filed ones include:

Negligence is a type of tort wherein the tortfeasor breaches a care of duty, resulting in harm or injury to the plaintiff. Some common tort claims that are based on a negligence theory include:

Strict Liability occurs where the tortfeasor becomes liable even if they did not act intentionally or breach a duty of care. Strict liability torts are common if the injury involved an unusually dangerous activity, such as those involving hazardous materials or wild animals. 

Finally, civil torts may involve a variety of other claims, such as nuisance, defamation, slander and libel, and invasions of privacy.

What is the Difference Between Criminal Law and Civil Law?

The main difference between a criminal law and civil law has to do with the type of punishment involved. Criminal offenses may lead to incarceration in a jail or prison facility. However, for civil violations such as torts, the person may not be incarcerated. The punishment will have to take the form of monetary damages, or an injunction (a court order requiring the person to cease their violations).

Also, criminal offenses are handled by prosecutors who are employed by the state. This means that criminal offenses are often associated with a variety of protections for the defendant to prevent abuses by the state. Some examples of these protections are search and seizure provisions and issues with evidence.  Many of these protections are not available in a civil claim. 

Are There any Defenses to Civil Torts?

There are many defenses to civil torts, however they usually depend on what type of tort has been committed. For example, if the defendant is being accused of an intentional tort, it may be a defense if the defendant did not act intentionally. Or, if the tort involved negligence, it may be a defense if the defendant’s breach of duty did not actually cause the injuries. 

Thus, if you are involved in a civil tort claim, you may wish to consult with an attorney, as the various defenses are dependent on the facts surrounding each individual case.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Civil Tort Claims?

Tort laws may vary widely by state or city.  If you have any questions regarding a tort cause of action, a lawyer can be of great assistance. They can tell you whether your claim has any merit and what steps you should take before filing. 

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Last Modified: 08-26-2013 04:31 PM PDT

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