What is a Tort?
Published on:October 20, 2017

Many of the laws we abide by in the United States have origins that go back hundreds and even thousands of years. When you sue someone in civil court, more than likely your attorney will refer to the tort laws in your state to put your case together. The term “tort” is French and it means “wrong,” which is a very concise and appropriate description of tort law.

What Does Tort Mean?

Tort law has been around for hundreds of years and it means any intentional or unintentional wrong act that is done against another person or entity. Tort law refers to all civil cases that deal in both negligence and intentional harm. Tort law is not criminal law, but it is still one of the four largest types of law practiced around the world (along with real estate, contract, and criminal law).

The Differences Between Tort And Criminal Law

While many aspects of tort law fall into the criminal law realm, it should be understood that tort and criminal law are two distinctly different fields. Many intentional torts can lead to criminal charges, such as:

  • Assault and battery
  • Fraud
  • Theft
  • Wrongful death

At the same time, some torts do not correspond to anything in the criminal code. Those torts include:

  • Libel
  • Defamation of character

When a victim feels that they want personal retribution to go along with criminal charges against someone who intentionally harmed them, then they can file a civil suit under tort law, even if there are criminal charges in place. The outcome of the civil trial is not influenced by what happens in the criminal trial as the two types of law are based on different legal principles.

Punishments Under Tort Law

Cases brought under tort law cannot result in jail time for the defendant. Only the criminal court system can use jail time as a punishment. Plaintiffs use tort law for two primary reasons; to get financial compensation from the defendant, or to prevent the defendant from harming anyone in the future.

Most cases using tort law end in negotiated settlements that keep the cases out of court. Many defendants want to avoid the kind of publicity a tort case can bring, and tort cases often require different kinds of information from a defendant that can get very personal. Sometimes a victim will use a tort case to force a doctor to give up their medical license, or get a community to change or add a law.

Class Action Lawsuits

When there is a large group of potential defendants that all have the same complaint against a person or entity, then it might be better to bring a class action lawsuit instead of individual civil actions against that entity. Class action lawsuits can take a long time to complete, but many times the court can be influenced by the amount of people who have been negatively impacted by the defendant.

Many of the tort law standards use in the United States originated in England. Today, each state is responsible for maintaining tort laws and all civil cases are tried in state courts. It can take a while for a tort law case to come to a conclusion, but it may also be the only way a victim gets justice for the injuries they have suffered.