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What Is Tort Law And Why Is it Important?

Updated February 6, 2024 | By Emily Chimenti

If you haven’t extensively studied law, terms like criminal law, civil law, and administrative law might feel intimidating when you come across them. Torts is one term frequently misunderstood. If you pursue a personal injury case, you might encounter the phase tort law and wonder what it means. Keep reading to learn all about tort law and its implications for your case.

What Is Tort Law?

Tort law involves acts that one party does—or fails to do—that injure or harm someone else.

What Is the Purpose of a Tort Case?

Torts have three primary purposes:

  • To recover damages to compensate someone for their injuries.
  • To determine whether another party is liable for an injury to hold them financially responsible.
  • To deter other parties from causing similar harm.

What Are the Different Categories of Torts?

Although all torts involve one party causing harm to another party, the specifics can vary from case to case. Let’s break down the three types of tort cases.

Different Types of Torts

Intentional Torts

An intentional tort occurs when one party intentionally acts to cause injury to another.

For example, suppose a surgical error happens—where a surgeon performs a procedure the patient did not consent to. In that case, they may be guilty of an intentional tort.

Intentional torts can be challenging because the victim has to prove that the defendant intended to cause harm by their actions. In the previous example, the victim may be able to prove that the defendant physically injured them. However, it will be harder for the victim to prove the surgeon intentionally performed the wrong procedure.

It is also important to note that the defendant may have intended to cause one type of harm but unintentionally caused another. For example, suppose one driver cuts off another in traffic. The second driver retaliates by driving recklessly to intimidate the first driver. However, he loses control of his car, resulting in an accident with the first car. In this case, the second may be liable for an intentional tort because he intended to cause harm, even though he did not foresee the crash.

Negligent Torts

Negligent torts occur when the defendant causes harm after acting carelessly or neglectfully. Unlike intentional torts, these defendants did not mean to cause harm. Still, they failed to take proper action or neglected to follow guidelines.

An example of a negligent tort could be a construction worker causing a scaffolding accident after failing to secure it properly. If the scaffold falls and injures someone, the construction worker (or company) may be liable for damages. This liability applies even if the worker did not intend to hurt anyone.

In general, negligent torts are more straightforward to prove than intentional torts. The victim can present photographic evidence and witness testimony that an event happened. They don’t carry the additional burden of proving the defendant was motivated to cause harm.

Since it is simpler to establish proof of negligent torts, the attorney representing the victim might claim both intentional and negligent tort in the same lawsuit. This way, if the judge does not find enough evidence for intentional tort, the victim may still cover damages under negligence.

Strict Liability Torts

In a strict liability case, the victim does not need to prove intentional or negligent tort. In these cases, the victim only has to demonstrate an injury. The liability automatically belongs to the defendant.

The most common example of strict liability is in defective product cases. If a device or product malfunctions and causes injury, the victim does not need to prove intent to harm. They don’t have to prove that a factory worker or product designer intended to hurt someone. The manufacturer is automatically liable for damages.

What Are Some Specific Types of Torts?

In addition to the broad categories of torts, some specific types of torts include:

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Products liability
  • Negligence
  • Trespassing
  • Public nuisance

How Are Torts Different From Criminal Cases?

You may wonder how tort law differs from criminal liability cases. The court’s primary goal in criminal law is to enforce justice and punish the wrongdoer. However, in tort law, the primary purpose is to recover compensation for the victim.

Although these cases have different purposes, the court may find the defendant criminally and tortiously liable.

What Happens If the Injured Party Wins Their Case?

For the victim in a tort case to win, they must prove that the defendant caused harm through negligence, direct action, or strict liability. If they are successful, judgment in favor of the victim will result in the following:

Determine Compensation

When the victim wins, the court will determine how much the defendant must pay them in damages. This amount should compensate the victim for their injury, medical bills, loss, and pain and suffering. Although it cannot undo the injury or eliminate the pain, compensation can shift the financial burden. It moves the costs of medical bills and loss of work onto the responsible party. Courts may also award punitive damages intended to punish the defendant further.

Uncover Misconduct

If a business, medical professional, or even the government is held liable in a torts case, the verdict will reveal and expose the defendant’s wrongdoing to the public. Depending on the impact of the case, the results may be televised or written in the news. When the public is informed about this person or business, they can take steps to avoid them.

Deter Similar Acts From Happening

When courts hold people and businesses accountable for the harm they’ve caused, they send a strong message. By awarding significant damages, this message is reinforced to the defendant and others. Doing so can make wrongdoers consider the consequences of their actions, leading them to act more responsibly.

Is Tort Reform Necessary?

Although tort cases can help victims recover the monetary damages they need to restore their lives, many argue that tort reform is necessary. Tort reform typically limits how much money a victim can recover after an injury.

Proponents of tort reform believe that placing these limits will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and bring down consumer costs, especially in the medical field. Doctors, for example, have to carry malpractice insurance and may make specific medical recommendations to reduce the likelihood of being sued. However, there is no evidence that artificial caps reduce the number of lawsuits, only that they prevent victims from getting the compensation they deserve.

However, reducing the amount of damages one can recover hurts victims who may not be able to recover a fair amount for their particular case. Additionally, artificially reducing the number of lawsuits that go to trial will prevent many victims from trying to correct an injustice. If a business or medical professional acted negligently, they should be held accountable.

Contact a Tort Lawyer Today

If someone harmed you or a loved one through action or negligence, contact an attorney to start your tort law case today. The lawyers at Wilson Kehoe Winingham can help you seek the compensation you need for your recovery. Call us at 317-920-6400 or fill out our contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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