Court systems worldwide and far back in history have recognized the need for a system of justice that allows victims of wrongdoing to seek compensation for the damages caused by the wrongdoer. This part of the justice system focuses not on punishing the wrongdoer as in the criminal justice system, but on imposing civil liability to compel the wrongdoer to compensate the person they’ve wronged for the economic damages and pain and suffering their action caused. The word “tort” stems from tortum, the Latin word for “twisted,” believed to connotate the untangling or straightening of difficult matters and making them right.
In the United States, tort law covers any civil, non-contractual breach committed against someone and covers a range of wrongs from being at fault in a car accident to committing medical malpractice or allowing your dog to bite a passerby. Tort law covers an extensive array of civil wrongs and harms, but it helps to understand the three basic types of torts litigated in our civil justice system.
While many tort cases deal with accidental harm and wrongs, an intentional tort occurs when a person purposely commits a wrong to another person. This type of tort case only covers cases of intentional wrongdoing that causes damages, which can be both economic damages and non-economic damage like pain and suffering. Punitive damages, serving as a punishment and deterrent are available for intentional tort cases in some states. Intentional torts include violent actions such as:
- Intentional imprisonment
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Conversion (borrowing and failing to return property or damaging borrowed property)
When there’s intentional harm done to another, a tort case may proceed forward to focus on financial compensation for the victim regardless of whether or not there’s also a separate criminal prosecution and with or without a conviction. For example, O.J. Simpson was found innocent in criminal court but found responsible in civil court and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.
In negligent torts, a person may be found at fault for causing damages to another through an act of negligence or recklessness. This tort depends on the understanding of a code of conduct in various situations where one person owes a duty to others to take reasonable actions and precautions to reduce the risk of harm.
For example, a driver has the duty to follow traffic laws and avoid distraction to prevent causing injury to others on the road. Actions in negligent tort cases don’t typically occur deliberately. In most tort cases, the defendant didn’t intentionally cause injury to another but allowed an injury to occur through a negligent action. Examples of negligent torts include injuries and economic damages caused by:
- Car, pedestrian, motorcycle, bicycle, and truck accidents caused by disregarding traffic laws or distracted driving
- Slip-and-fall accidents
- Medical malpractice
Negligent torts are the most commonly litigated tort cases.
Strict Liability Torts
In strict liability tort cases, the plaintiff does not have to prove either negligence or wrongdoing in order to recover damages, only that the actions of another directly caused the harm even when the other didn’t act negligently or with purposeful wrongdoing. For example, a manufacturer who produces a product may take every precaution and still produce a defective product that causes injury. Other examples of strict liability torts include:
- Dog attacks
- Hazardous or inherently dangerous activities
Tort laws serve as legal recompense and a way for victims to gain compensation for their damages when they’ve been harmed, including tangible damages that are relatively easy to calculate based on medical expenses and lost wages, and intangible damages like pain and suffering which aren’t easy to calculate in monetary terms but which also deserve compensation. Financial compensation is the only way the courts can address compensating for pain and suffering in tort law. If you or a loved one was injured, consider speaking with an experienced Westminster personal injury lawyer.