Tort? What Does That Funny Sounding Word Mean to Lawyers and the Courts?
The law has some strange words, no doubt. Some are very important, and one of these is “Tort.” In law school, entire claims are taught in “Tort Law.”
Further, this term frequently appears in legal conversations between lawyers and judges at the courthouse. But what exactly does this funny-sounding term mean to lawyers and the courts? Let’s delve into this today and demystify the “tort.”
Understanding the Term: Tort
Lawyers have used this word since well before North Carolina was a colony. It is derived from the Latin word ‘torture,’ which means “wrong,” “injustice,” as well as “twisted.”
In legal terms, a tort means a civil wrong where the law provides a remedy. It signifies a wrongful act leading to injury or harm for which the courts provide a remedy in the form of monetary or other damages. These damages typically involve financial compensation paid by the wrongdoer, also known as the ‘tortfeasor,’ to the injured party.
Torts fall under civil law, making them distinct from criminal offenses. While the latter often involves prosecution by the state to maintain law and order, the former is about one party seeking redress from another for personal harm or loss.
Torts apply to civil injuries to someone’s person and to their business or dignitary interests, among many other claims for injury. Some lawyers think of it as covering almost all other claims for damages that are not resulting from contract-based claims or injuries. And that covers a massive area.
However, the development of tort law in America started with our original adoption of English law and systems. However, it got a huge boost due to the industrial revolution, which brought about numerous changes, including harnessing significant capital to build businesses and modern life, more urbanization, factory work, and increased use of machinery. The new working conditions led to accidents and injuries, and the law had to adapt to address these issues, leading to the emergence and expansion of tort law as we know it today.
What is the Difference Between Tort Law and Contracts Law, and Why Does it Matter?
While tort law and contract law fall under the umbrella of civil law, each serves a distinct purpose and deals with different legal scenarios, fact patterns, and damages that a court can award.
Tort law governs situations where one person’s behavior causes injury or harm to another person. It often relates to how businesses treat one another and our citizens. So, it is a critical concept in personal injury law, but also just as important; it protects people from having their rights trampled all over by businesses, local, state, and national governments, and other people. So yeah: Tort law is very important for protecting us all!
The critical aspect of tort law is the concept of duty or responsibility that everyone in society owes to others, and it primarily deals with cases of negligence, like personal injury, medical malpractice, and defamation, among others.
Tort claims typically arise from breaches of duties that exist under society’s expectations rather than specific agreements. Contract law and claims deal with all the agreements everyone enters into daily with others.
A person may be held liable for a tortious act whether or not they intended to cause harm, provided their action or inaction fell below the required standard of care and directly resulted in damage or injury to another party.
Tort law aims to “make whole” the injured party by awarding damages that should, in theory, return them to their position before the tortious act occurred.
Contract law regulates agreements between parties and the obligations these agreements create. It comes into play when a party to a contract fails to fulfill their agreed-upon duties, known as a breach of contract. Each of us designs arrangements every day and is all around us. When you drop off your laundry, have your car repaired, or engage in one of many hundreds of standard arrangements where payment or a return promise is made for something received, you are involved in a legally enforceable type of contract, assuming that it meets all the basic definitions of a “bargained-for exchange” in the eyes of the law. Many agreements are verbal only and not placed in writing unless of a type of contract that requires writing, such as a promise to sell your home or to undertake something that the law feels is so important and where someone may lie, that clear writing of all basic terms requires being signed.
In contrast to tort law, contract law is designed to enforce voluntary promises between parties and provide a remedy when those promises are not fulfilled. The agreements made in a contract form the basis of obligations rather than societal expectations of conduct.
The main goal of contract law is to enforce the agreement between the parties. If a breach occurs, damages are awarded for placing the non-breaching party in the position they would have been in if the contract had been performed as agreed.
In summary, while tort and contract law provides a framework for assigning liability and awarding damages in cases of wrongdoing, they differ in the types of obligations they enforce, the nature of the relationships they regulate, and how damages are calculated.
Categories of Torts
Torts are generally categorized into three broad areas: intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability torts
- Intentional Torts: involve deliberate actions that cause harm or loss to another individual where the law allows a remedy. Examples include assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, just to name a few. New torts are created daily, and some are even referred to as general
or “undifferentiated” torts because there are so many ways people devise to hurt one another that unfortunately, it appears to be nearly infinite.
- Negligence Torts: This category covers cases where the harm was not intended but resulted from one party’s lack of reasonable care or breach of duty. A typical example of negligence would be a traffic accident caused by a texting driver.
- Strict Liability Torts: These are cases where the wrongdoing party may be held responsible regardless of intent or level of carefulness. Strict liability is often applicable in product liability cases where a manufacturer can be held liable for producing a defective product that causes harm, even if they did not intend or were not negligent.
Torts in the Eyes of Lawyers and Courts
To lawyers, torts represent a significant aspect of the legal landscape, forming the basis of many civil lawsuits. When clients approach them with a tort claim, they are tasked with proving that the defendant’s wrongful action led to their client’s harm or loss.
Courts, conversely, serve as the arena where these tort disputes are resolved. Judges and juries listen to the arguments made by both sides, consider the evidence, and decide whether a tort has been committed. If they find a tortfeasor liable, they determine the damages to be awarded to the injured party.
Why Understanding Torts Matters
Even though the term ‘tort’ may sound strange, understanding its meaning is crucial. We encounter situations related to tort law more often than we realize, and a grasp of the concept may help us, as citizens, business owners, and in our daily lives and jobs, to understand our rights and responsibilities within society. If you find yourself a victim of a wrong or a civil tort, it’s essential to consult with a legal professional to guide you through the often complex landscape of tort law and to advocate for your rights.
In conclusion, while ‘tort’ might be a peculiar term to many, it is a fundamental concept in law, reflecting the societal belief that those who suffer harm due to others’ wrongful acts deserve a legal remedy. Whether it’s an intentional act, a case of negligence, or a situation of strict liability, understanding torts brings us one step closer to comprehending the fascinating world of law.
If your family business has been ‘injured,’ know that you have legal options, similar to personal injury victims. Reach out to a skilled commercial litigation attorney or civil litigation attorney in Mooresville, NC, such as the attorneys at Grimes Yeoman, PLLC, who can help you navigate this challenging time and fight for the justice your business — and your family — deserves.
This blog post is intended for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The situations and facts discussed illustrate what the author believes to be sound and wise thinking, and they may not represent the specifics of your case. You should always consult with a legal professional about your unique circumstances.
Again, the Grimes Yeoman PLLC attorneys are here to help. Call us today if you believe you or someone you care about has suffered harm or an injury. Knowing your rights and having peace of mind can be as important as anything else, regardless of whether it involves a personal or business injury. Help may be only a simple phone call away.