Contract law is the body of law that deals with contracts, written, oral, express and implied. Tort law is the body of law that deals with the legal theories of negligence and strict product liability.
Contract law deals with how a valid, enforceable contract is formed and what should happen if the parties to the contract fail to perform as promised. Tort law deals with the duty of care that the law imposes on all of us and what happens when we breach that duty and cause personal injury and property damage to others.
Thus, a legally valid, enforceable contract has been created if there is:
If either party breaches the contract, i.e., fails to perform their obligation as stated in the contract, the other parties can sue for breach of contract. Typically, damages for a breach of contract are awarded with the goal of compensating the non-breaching party for losses suffered as a result of the breach. Other damages that may be awarded in contract breaches include restitution, liquidated damages, nominal damages, and rescission of the contract. In rare cases, punitive damages may be awarded.
Tort law is another body of law that falls within the domain of civil law. It deals with the duty that we all have in our affairs to exercise due care so as not to injure people or damage the property of others. When one person breaches the duty of care, they become liable to pay damages to the party who is injured or whose property is damaged. Tort law is based on the premise that people are liable for their negligent actions, and is a very broad category of law that includes many different types of personal injury claims.
Similar to breach of contract damages, tort law aims to compensate victims for any injuries or losses suffered by the negligent acts of another.. So, in a personal injury case, a person can recover money damages to compensate for lost wages, the cost of medical care, damage to property and in some cases their pain and suffering. In cases in which the negligence was especially egregious, the injury party might recover punitive damages.
Another area of tort law is the law of strict product liability. This is the body of law that makes the manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make and distribute products to the public responsible for the personal injuries and property damage that those products cause.
Success with a claim of product liability does not depend on proving that the entity sued was negligent. Rather manufacturers and distributors of defective productives can be made to pay damages for the injury and damage their products cause on a strict liability basis. This simply means that negligence must not be proven. Rather all that must be shown by the injured person is that a product was defective and it caused personal injury or property damage.
How are Tort Law and Contract Law Similar?
As noted above, considering contract law vs tort law, broadly speaking both are branches of civil law. They define how a person can commit a civil wrong which can lead to liability for injury to another person or damage to their property or other interests. Both breach of contract and breach of the duty of care engender liability to pay money damages to compensate the injured party for the harm done to them.
As mentioned above, in contract law, this breach is a breach of contract, whether it is written or oral, express or implied. It occurs when one party fails to render the performance promised in a contract. In tort law, a breach of duty involves the breach of one party’s duty of care to another. For example, the most common type of tort claim is one that is based on a theory of negligence. Success in a lawsuit based on negligence requires the injured party to prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to them, and the breach caused their injuries or losses.
Or, a person who files a product liability claim must show that a product was defective and causes their injuries or damage to their property. The entities who manufactured and distributed the defective product are responsible for paying money damages.
In all three cases, breach of contract, negligence and strict liability, the payment of money damages to compensate the party who is wronged is the basic form of remediation.
How do Tort Law and Contract Law Differ from One Another?
One significant difference between contract law and tort law involves the issue of consent and agreement. As noted above, in order to recover in contract law, the injured party must show that they are a party to a valid contract, and that the breaching party has failed to perform as promised in the contract. So, in a contract situation, the parties know each other and have knowingly entered into a contractual agreement.
In tort law, however, the parties are often not known to each other, although they also can be. For example, in a medical malpractice situation, the patient and the doctor probably know each other, but in an auto accident, the parties are not known to each other. Still the law says that as drivers on a public roadway, they owe each other a duty of care, just as the doctor owes a duty of care to the patient in the medical malpractice situation. But this duty of care is not dependent on any agreement between the parties. Rather, it is imposed by law.
In contract law, the duty violated derives from the contract which the parties entered into freely and the duty is only owed by the parties to the contract to each other.
As for damages, in tort law, the measure for damages is not fixed or limited but depends on the extent of the harm suffered. In contract law, the measure of damages is limited to the harm caused by the failure of one contracting party to deliver the performance promised.
Damages in tort law are limited to monetary awards, for lost wages, the cost of medical care, pain and suffering, to compensate for damage to property, and sometimes punitive damages. Damages for breach of contract can be a monetary award. If the facts warrant it, a court can order that the contract be performed as agreed; this is called “specific performance.” Or the court might order recission of the contract, which is basically cancellation of the contract.
Usually in a breach of contract situation, the damage is to a party’s economic interests only and does not involve injury to their person or physical damage to property as is the case in a personal injury case.
Can I File a Contract Claim and a Tort Claim in the Same Lawsuit?
It is possible to bring a civil lawsuit with different causes of action based on both contract and tort law in the same complaint. There are cases in which both a tort claim and contract claim may fit the facts of the case. The elements for a breach of contract claim and the elements for a tort claim must be present and justified by the facts. That would mean that the parties had to have entered into a contract which one party breached.
An example in which both tort claim and a breach of contract claim might both be made in the same lawsuit is in the case of strict product liability. Often the supplier of a defective product has a contract with the purchaser and it may include a warranty of some kind. So the purchaser of the defective product might sue for breach of warranty, which is a type of contract claim, as well as for strict product liability, which is a tort cause of action.
However, because of the difference in the duties owed, the damages sought, and elements needed to establish a tort and contract claim, tort claims and contract claims are often brought separately.
Should I Hire an Attorney for My Contract and Tort Law Claim?
As can be seen, both tort law and contract law are branches of civil law that cover many different types of conduct and relationships. Filing a lawsuit involving either a tort cause of action or a breach of contract cause of action can become quite complicated.
If you are in a situation where you are dealing with issues regarding contract law, tort law, or both, it would be in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney.
If you need assistance with tort law, an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area will be able to assist you with evaluating your case, filing your lawsuit, and representing you in all phases of the action.
If you are involved in a dispute concerning a breach of contract, you should contact a well-qualified contract attorney in your area. An experienced contract attorney can help protect you from legal liabilities, if the other party is claiming a breach, or recover damages to compensate you for your losses. Either way, you want an experienced contract lawyer representing your interests..