If you look up the definition of what an actual “tort” is, the dictionary will define it as a “wrongful act or an infringement of a right leading to civil liability.” Accordingly, it would follow that tort law is an extremely broad area of civil law that covers wrongdoings committed against another individual.
This includes behavior that causes injury, pain and suffering, unfair loss, or harm to another person. Thus, it should come as no surprise that many claims that are brought under a tort law theory are based on an action for personal injury.
Additionally, sometimes tort law claims are based on an action for products liability. This occurs when a person is injured by a dangerous or defective product.
In general, tort laws are founded on two main principles. The first has to do with compensating the victim for any losses caused by a defendant’s actions. Tort law remedies aim to put the victim in a position that is as close as possible to the condition that they were in before the incident happened.
The second involves the concept of deterrence (i.e., discouragement), which hopefully prevents the defendant from ever repeating the same violation again in the future against the same or another victim. This is typically done by assigning a particular punishment to the defendant, such as large fines (usually) or an injunction, that corresponds with the seriousness of their actions.
How are Torts Classified?
Tort law is normally separated into three distinct categories. These include:
- Intentional torts, such as a claim for battery;
- Unintentional torts, which usually involve an action based on negligence, like those found in a slip and fall case; and
- Strict liability torts, which are based on incidents relating to specific causes, such as those stemming from ultrahazardous materials, dangerous wild animals, or certain products liability claims.
As previously mentioned, torts are a category of civil law, not criminal law. This means that some torts may involve conduct that is not necessarily illegal, but since it causes harm to another individual, tort law says that the victim needs to somehow be compensated for their injury or loss.
There are certain situations, however, where a tort law case will overlap with elements found in criminal laws.
For example, assault is found under both tort and criminal laws. The difference of whether the assault can be raised to the level of a criminal offense will depend on the facts of the case and if they meet the elements found in the criminal statute of the state where the assault was committed.
What are Some Examples of Torts?
As discussed above, tort law claims cover a wide range of harmful behavior. Therefore, there are many different scenarios that may be considered grounds for a tort.
Some common examples of tort actions include:
- Negligence-related claims;
- Civil assault (which could lead to civil battery depending on the facts of a case);
- Wrongful death claims;
- Trespass (real property), or trespass to chattels (personal property);
- Strict products liability; and
- Intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Generally, the most common type of lawsuit found in torts law is negligence. An action for negligence requires the plaintiff (victim) to prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to them and that this breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries or losses.
For example, suppose a shopkeeper had a duty to keep their shop’s floor clean for customers. If the shopkeeper failed to do so, which then led to a customer being severely harmed, then the shopkeeper may be held liable for the customer’s injuries that were caused by not properly maintaining their shop’s floor.
What are Some Common Remedies Awarded in a Tort Law Case?
Remedies in a tort case will of course vary depending on the type of violation involved and how seriously the victim was either injured or how much they suffered in regard to losses. Some common remedies that are found in tort cases include:
- Compensatory (monetary) damage awards for related losses, such as pain and suffering, lost wages, emotional distress, and various other costs;
- Monetary damage awards strictly for economic losses; and
- Injunctions, which are court orders that require a defendant to cease their harmful actions, or alternatively, to start taking a specific action (e.g., reducing pollution or cleaning up after a toxic spill).
Although they are rarely awarded, it is important to note that some tort cases may allow a plaintiff to recover an award for “punitive” damages. Punitive damages are extra monetary damages that are specifically meant to punish the defendant. This can sometimes be a very high amount in comparison to the victim’s losses.
The reason as to why they are rarely awarded is because they are typically only issued in connection with extremely offensive or severely damaging acts committed by the defendant. Additionally, some state statutes may also place limits on calculating punitive damages (e.g., only up to two or three times the amount of economic losses incurred).
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Claims Involving Tort Laws?
As discussed above, tort law is a very broad area of law that gives rise to many different types of injuries and violations. Also, every state has its own set of tort law statutes, which means the law may vary depending on where a person is located or where the injury took place. Consequently, all of this can make a tort law case extremely complex to handle without the help of an attorney.
Thus, if you have a claim involving tort law, you should really consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney.
A local personal injury lawyer will be able to provide guidance on the laws affecting your case. They can also negotiate on your behalf during a settlement agreement, determine what rights and remedies, or defenses, are available for your case, and represent you in court if necessary.