In the common law, a tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. The term comes from Law French and means, literally, 'a wrong'.
The "law of torts" is a body of civil law or private law that covers the various legal (money damages) and equitable remedies which the law provides for civil wrongs arising from extra-contractual liability, i.e., other than those wrongs which arise from a breach of contractual obligations. The majority of legal claims (and the lawsuits that they are brought in) are torts.
In most countries, torts are typically divided into three broad categories: "Intentional torts", "Negligence" and "Nuisance".
In general terms, Intentional Torts are any intentional acts that are reasonably foreseeable to cause harm to an individual and do so.
Tort of Negligence is when harm occurs as a result of an individual, who is under a duty, fails to meet a standard of care imposed by that duty through and act or omission.
Tort of Nuisance is any act that interferes with someone else's use and enjoyment of land.
Purpose of torts
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.
Tort by country
Each country has developed a varied view of torts through their jurisprudence. Though there is often a degree of cross-pollination, there often clear differences in requirements to prove an offense.
Last updated: 08-04-2005 18:36:55