What Is Tort Law?

tort law
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Whether you’re looking for a Denver pedestrian accident attorney or a North Carolina personal injury attorney, you’re going to have to deal with tort law. Tort law has been referred to as the law of wrongful injuries by many publications. In general terms, tort law describes the type of law that compensates people who have been injured due to others’ negligence or reckless behaviors, whether intentional or unintentional. 

This type of law protects people who are injured by people who act without the proper care or attention to the well-being of others. It also ensures those wrongfully affected, whether physically, emotionally, or financially, receive financial compensation for the troubles caused by negligence. 

Tort law is an integral component of the overall law. Contract, real property, and criminal law comprise other pillars of the law. Since it deals with people’s injuries, tort law comprises a large portion of the overall law “Tort” actually originally comes from Latin and then French, meaning twisted or wrong. That meaning still applies to tort law because it pertains to the wrongful injury incurred to someone at the hands of someone’s lack of attention and their infliction of harm. 

Tort lawsuits are the largest category of civil litigation and they encompass a wide range of personal injury cases. There are three main types of tort claims: those based on intentional harm, negligence or carelessness, and those based on strict liability.

Tort Case Parties 

The Plaintiff 

The plaintiff describes the injured person and the party who sues the party who caused the injury. 

The Defendant 

The defendant is the person who is accused of wrongdoing. The official term for this party is the tortfeasor and they are the party sued by the plaintiff. 

Tort Case Properties

The plaintiff must prove all, or a combination of the following properties to win a tort case: 

  • Duty
  • Breach of duty
  • Causation
  • Damages


Duty is not a simple concept. A driving law can represent a duty. For example, everyone has to stop at a stop sign and if they fail to do so, they do not fulfill their duty. In other instances, duty can arise from common knowledge. For example, hitting a baseball on a baseball field is perfectly acceptable. However, hitting a baseball in the middle of the street and breaking a windshield isn’t and it’s a failure to fulfill one’s duty.  

Breach of Duty

Breach of duty occurs when the wrongdoer doesn’t comply with their full scope of duty to other people. Breach of duty can either be intentional or unintentional. For example, someone hits someone with the intent of injuring them. It can also be negligent. For example, if a motorist runs a stop sign because they don’t see it. 


In causation cases, the plaintiff must prove their injuries were caused by the defendant. These cases are more difficult to prove than duty cases. For example, if someone has a knee replacement and needs another operation after someone causes an accident. To what extent does the defendant have to pay for the plaintiff’s knee surgeries? After all, the plaintiff already had knee problems. 


Damages describes two things: the injuries suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the defendant. These can include:

  •  Medical bills
  • Lost income or wages
  • Pain, suffering, reduced enjoyment of life’s activities
  • Scarring 
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of life 

It can also include the amount of money awarded by the jury or received in a settlement to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries and losses. 

If the court wants to deter the party from future misconduct, they may award punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. For example, in a case against a manufacturer for a defective product, the court may award punitive damages to prevent the manufacturer from negligence in future production endeavors. 

What Is Intentional Tort?

Intentional torts describe instances when an individual or entity deliberately commits a negligent action, according to Nolo. For example, if someone strikes someone in the face with the intent to cause harm. They would have committed an intentional tort against a plaintiff. In this case, the defendant would have committed a tort of battery. Accidentally hitting someone in the face and causing harm would be classified as an unintentional tort. 

Can an Act be Both a Tort and a Crime?

An act can be both a tort and a crime in many cases. For example, in the above example, if someone commits a tort of battery, they will have committed both a tort and a crime. 

How Is Tort Law Different than Criminal Law?

Tort law is considered civil and the term “civil law” describes laws between people. Criminal law is law imposed by the government. Also, in criminal cases, if the accused gets convicted of the crime, they will be imprisoned by the government. In civil cases, the defendant will not be imprisoned. They pay for their crime in financial penalties and injunctive relief.  

Examples of Intentional Torts

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • False imprisonment
  • Conversion
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Fraud/deceit
  • Trespass (to land and property)
  • Defamation

More On Negligence

To clarify, negligence implies carelessness rather than intentional harm. It implies the defendant doesn’t take the appropriate care in their actions. Whereas a reasonable person would take the appropriate caution, a negligent person doesn’t. It is the most common type of tort. 

You can consider negligence unintentional torts. Unlike intentional torts, negligence doesn’t have deliberate actions involved. Instead, the individual or entity doesn’t take the appropriate care and fails to uphold a duty to other people.  

Negligent torts can include the following: 

  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Car accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Medical malpractice

Bottom Line 

Tort law describes law involved in recompensing people for either deliberate or negligent acts that cause harm. The damages the plaintiff endures range from minor injuries to death. Torts can also be criminal or unintentional. Because there are many components of tort law, consulting an attorney is important regardless of how seemingly minor the infraction in question may be.