New York Tort Law

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 What Is Tort Law?

Although the exact definition varies by state, the legal term “tort” refers to a violation in which one person inflicts damage, injury, or harm to another person. A violation could occur due to intentional actions of an individual, the negligent actions of an individual, or a violation of certain laws.

The individual who commits the violation against another person is commonly referred to as the “tortfeasor.” When an individual inflicts damage, injury, or harm to another person they incur what is known as tort liability. This means that the tortfeasor is liable to reimburse the victim for any harm that they inflicted.

Under most tort laws, the injuries suffered by the plaintiff (i.e. the person that was injured) do not strictly have to be physical in order for the tortfeasor to be held liable. For example, common types of damages for torts include claims for emotional distress.

Tort law is the broad category of laws that include several different types of personal injury claims for injuries suffered at the hands of another person. The first purpose of tort laws are to compensate the victim for any injuries or losses resulting from the tortfeasor’s violations or actions. The second purpose of tort laws are to deter or discourage the tortfeasor or other actors from repeating a similar violation in the future.

In general, torts can be classified into one of three broad categories:

  1. Strict Liability Torts: These are torts that involve hazardous materials or other inherently dangerous actions that are dangerous in and of themselves;
  2. Unintentional Torts: These are torts that involve negligence, such as a slip and fall case; and
  3. Intentional Torts: These are torts in which an individual intentionally harms another individual, such as civil battery.

As torts are classified under civil law as opposed to criminal law, many torts may involve conduct that is not necessarily illegal. However, the legal conduct still may cause harm to another person. It is important to note however that some tort cases do overlap with criminal law. For example, criminal charges may be brought against an individual for criminal assault, while a civil lawsuit may also be filed against them for civil assault to recover the damages suffered by the plaintiff.

What Are Common Examples of Torts in New York?

In New York, a tort is any wrongful act, not including a breach of contract claim, that results in harm to another person, their property, reputation, or the like, that the legal system can remedy. In other words, a tort is an action taken by another that causes damages to another person who can then hold the actor liable for the damages they suffered. In essence, any injury that is caused to another person that does not fall under breach of contract law may be considered a tortious action.

When a tort is committed in New York, New York law grants the victim the legal right to sue the person who allegedly harmed them. This right to sue is known as a “cause of action.” Tort laws in New York include dozens of different tort causes of action. Some causes of action are fairly obscure, and don’t come up often, while others are fairly common.

Examples of the most common types of torts that a person is likely to deal with include:

  • The negligent actions of another;
  • The fraudulent actions of another;
  • Intentional physical torts such as civil battery (making harmful or offensive contact with someone, without their consent);
  • Intentional property torts such as conversion (taking someone else’s property and converting it to their own), or other theft crimes; and
  • Emotional torts such as defamation (when someone says something false about someone else, with that lie resulting in harm), libel or slander, and invasion of privacy.

Once again, if an individual suffers any of the types of harm, or other harm as a result of the tortious actions of another, they will have a cause of action against the tortfeasor. Examples of common damage claims that are available to plaintiffs in New York include:

  • Lost Wages: In most tort cases, the plaintiff that was harmed may bring a claim for their lost wages as a result of them having to miss work from their injury. In some cases, the plaintiff may also make a damages claim for loss of earning capacity if their injury will impact their work in the future;
  • Medical Bills: The most common damages claim is that of medical bills and expenses. A plaintiff will be allowed to make the tortfeasor pay for their hospital bills, therapy bills, and medications in most cases. It is important to note that insurance will typically play a role in recovering medical bills;
  • Property Damage: Another common damage claim is for the damages caused to the plaintiff’s property. For example, in a New York car crash matter, the plaintiff could make a property damage claim for the amount of repairs necessary to repair their damaged vehicle;
  • Pain and Suffering: Plaintiffs may also be able to make a claim for pain and suffering. Common theories for a pain and suffering claim include loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, physical pain, and scarring; and/or
  • Punitive Damages: In some cases the court may wish to punish the actions of the tortfeasor beyond their liability. Such damages would be known as punitive damages.
    • In New York, punitive damages typically cannot exceed 10 times the amount of actual damages suffered by the plaintiff. However, this is not a strict rule, but rather a guideline for courts. Courts in New York have found both larger punitive damage awards to be valid, as well as smaller punitive damage awards to be invalid.

What Is Tort Reform?

In short, tort reform in New York is the recent law changes in tort law in New York. In general, the trend for tort reform in New York has limited the scope of liability for corporations that have injured New York citizens. As the law is constantly developing, it is important to be aware of any recent law changes regarding tort law.

The two most common tort reforms that have significantly impacted plaintiffs are tort reforms aimed at capping the amount of damages in certain civil lawsuits, and tort reforms that put limits on contingency fees for plaintiff lawyers. For example, in New York, contingency fees in medical malpractice cases are limited to 30 percent of the first $250,000 in damages, 20 percent on the next $500,000 in damages, 15 percent of the next $250,000, and 10 percent of any damages that exceed $1,250,000.

In addition to companies lobbying for tort reform regarding their civil liability, companies are also increasingly using forced arbitration clauses in contracts to prevent individuals from holding them liable in a private civil lawsuit. Thus, the companies are seeking to limit the right of an individual to sue them and collect damages from the harms they suffered.

Do New York Tort Laws Contain Any Unique Provisions?

In short, yes. As mentioned above, due in large part to tort reform, the tort laws of New York contain many unique provisions that make it different from other states. Examples of unique tort provisions include, but are not limited to:

  • Limitations on Damages: New York generally does not restrict monetary damages in tort lawsuits. This means that there is no cap for medical malpractice damages in New York.
    • It is important to note that in 2011 governor Cuomo signed a law that established a “Neurologically Impaired Infant Medical Indemnity Fund.” The fund essentially deprives brain damaged children of any monies formerly awarded to them in medical negligence or malpractice claim, by instead granting them a right to receive care from a government run fund. This means that they are not free to use the damages they recovered as they see fit, and instead will only receive money from the fund that the government considers necessary and proper for their care.
  • Statute of Limitations: A statute of limitations is the period of time when a lawsuit may be filed. New York has several specific laws regarding statutes of limitations for torts; and
  • Family Law and Tort Law Overlap: Many divorce claims in New York often involve torts, especially in instances of cruel or inhumane treatment. In New York, it is possible to include a claim of “cruel and inhumane treatment” within a divorce lawsuit, and also utilize the same in a civil tort lawsuit.

Do I Need a New York Attorney for Tort Disputes?

As can be seen, New York tort law involves several areas of law and a good understanding of the specific New York tort laws. As such, if you are involved in a tort dispute, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced New York tort lawyer.

An experienced attorney will be able to help you understand the laws that may impact your case, as well as initiate a civil lawsuit on your behalf. Finally, an experienced attorney will also be able to represent you in a court of law, as necessary.

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