Tort Law


In the common law , a tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. The origins of the modern law of torts lie in the old remedies of trespass and trespass on the case . The term itself comes from Law French and means, literally, 'a wrong'. The equivalent body of law in civil law legal systems is delict.

A tort is distinguished from the law of contract , law of restitution , and the criminal law . A tort is a breach of duty , potentially owed to the whole world, imposed by law, whereas in contract, individuals agree to be bound by a set of rules (the contract). The majority of legal claims are brought in tort.

Torts serve to protect a person's interest in his or her bodily security, tangible property, financial resources, or reputation. Interference with one of these interests is redressable by an action for compensation , usually in the form of unliquidated damages. The law of torts therefore aims to restore the injured person to the position he or she was in before the tort was committed.

In most countries, torts are typically divided into three broad categories: Intentional torts , Negligence and Nuisance . Additional categories or subcategories recognized in some countries. Some torts are considered to carry strict liability , that is they are actionable without the plaintiff demonstrating any actual damage has occurred.

Definition of a tort

The American writer William Prosser wrote in Handbook of the Law of Torts : "'tort' is a term applied to a miscellaneous and more or less unconnected group of civil wrongs other than breach of contract for which a court of law will afford a remedy in the form of an action for damages."

Besides damages, in a limited range of cases, tort law will tolerate self-help, for example, using reasonable force to expel a trespasser. Further, in the case of a continuing tort, or even where harm is merely threatened, the courts will sometimes grant an injunction to restrain the continuance or threat of harm.

Purposes of torts

The law of torts determines whether a loss that befalls one person should or should not be shifted to another person. Some of the consequences of injury or death, such as medical expenses incurred, can be made good by payment of damages . Damages may also be paid, for want of a better means of compensation, for non-pecuniary consequences, such as pain.

In "The Aims of the Law of Tort" ( 1951 ) Glanville Williams saw four possible bases on which different torts rested: appeasement, justice, deterrence and compensation. The law tends to emphasize different aims in relation to intentional torts from those in relation to negligence or strict liability. After Williams' article there grew up a school of economic analysts of law who emphasized incentives and deterrence.

Categories of torts

Torts are generally categorized by two factors:

1. The level of intent that must be assessed against the tortfeasor, and

2. The interest affected by the tort.

Intentional torts

Intentional Torts are any intentional acts that are reasonably foreseeable to cause harm to an individual, and that do so. Intentional torts fall into several subcategories, including torts against the person , property torts , dignitary torts , and economic torts.

* Torts against the person

Torts against the person harm or restrict the person of the plaintiff. Torts against the person include assault , battery , false imprisonment , and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

* Property torts

Property torts involve any intentional interference with the property rights of the plaintiff. Those commonly recognized include trespass to land , trespass to chattels , and conversion.

* Dignitary torts

Dignitary torts are torts that cause no tangible injury to a person or his property, but rather cause intangible harm to his reputation. These may include defamation , slander , libel , misappropriation of publicity , invasion of privacy , and disclosure . In the United States , the First Amendment places special limitations on the defamation of public figures with respect to issues of public importance. Abuse of process and malicious prosecution are often classified as dignitary torts as well.

* Economic torts

Economic torts include common law fraud and tortious interference with contractual or business relationships.


Tort of Negligence is when harm occurs as a result of an individual breaches a duty of care owed to the plaintiff. Negligence can be the result of an act or omission . In order to succeed in an action in negligence one must establish four things. Firstly, that a duty of care was in fact owed; secondly, that this duty was breached; thirdly, that the plaintiff suffered damages; and finally, that the damage was caused by the breach.


Tort of Nuisance is any act that interferes with the plaintiff's use and enjoyment of land.

Strict liability

Strict liability is applied in some countries to ultrahazardous activities , which present such grave dangers that parties engaged in those activities are held liable for injuries resulting therefrom even if they were not negligent. This theory is applied to injuries resulting from things such as the keeping of wild animals, use of explosives, or use of radiation.

In some countries, strict liability is the rule in certain product liability cases, on the theory that only strict liability can force manufacturers to always pursue the safest possible design.

Copyright infringement has been made a strict liability tort by statute.

Torts and criminal law

In common law , many torts originated in the criminal law, and there is still some overlap between crime and tort. For example, in English law an assault is both a crime and a tort (a form of trespass to the person).

The difference that grew up between the two is that in tort it is the victim (or 'claimant' in English law) who will normally initiate any court action and who aims to have a wrong compensated (for example by the payment of damages ) or prevented (for example by injunctive relief ); whereas criminal actions are normally for punitive purposes and are initiated by a public body or their representative. Another distinction is that incarceration is available as a penalty for crimes, but not for torts.

Having said that, many jurisdictions retain a punitive element as a part of the law of tort via exemplary damages , and some torts may have a public element, for example public nuisance , with actions being maintained by a public body. While criminal law is primarily punitive, again many jurisdictions have evolved forms of compensation that may be ordered by criminal courts.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Tort"