tort | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

A tort is a civil (not criminal) wrong that consists of a negligent or intentional injury against a person or property (with the exception of breach of contract).

The same act can be both a crime and a tort. As a matter of legal theory, a tort harms a particular individual, whereas a crime is seen as harming all citizens of the state.

Contrast with a crime.

A tort is a type of civil wrong that involves harm or injury caused by one person or entity to another person or entity. It is a private wrong that is not considered a criminal offense. The harm caused may be physical, emotional, or financial in nature. The person who causes the harm is known as the tortfeasor or the defendant, and the person who suffers the harm is known as the plaintiff.

Torts can be intentional, where the defendant intends to cause harm, or negligent, where the defendant fails to exercise reasonable care in a given situation, causing harm to the plaintiff. Examples of intentional torts include assault, battery, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Examples of negligent torts include car accidents caused by a driver who was texting, medical malpractice, and slip-and-fall accidents caused by a business owner’s failure to maintain safe premises.

The purpose of tort law is to provide compensation to the victim for the harm caused by the tortfeasor. The compensation can include economic damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage, as well as non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the tortfeasor for particularly egregious conduct.

Tort law is based on the principle of fault, which means that the defendant is liable only if they are found to have caused the harm through their own negligence or intentional actions. However, in some cases, strict liability may apply, which means that the defendant is liable regardless of whether they were at fault. Strict liability typically applies in cases involving inherently dangerous activities, such as using explosives or keeping wild animals.

Tort law is an important aspect of the legal system, as it allows individuals to seek compensation for harm suffered at the hands of others. It also provides a deterrent effect, as potential tortfeasors may be deterred from engaging in harmful behavior if they know they may be held liable in a court of law. Overall, tort law plays an important role in protecting the rights and well-being of individuals in society.

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Last Modified: 04/09/2023


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