What exactly is a “tort”?
Most of us have a pretty good understanding of what criminal law is. Criminal law always involves wrongs that are committed against the values and norms of society. Therefore, a criminal case is always initiated by the government. If you are found guilty of a crime, you may be imprisoned or required to pay a fine.
Tort law is a way of providing a remedy for personal wrongs – conduct that causes injury, damage or loss to another person. The government is not involved. Instead, the law authorizes the injured party to sue the wrongdoer directly and to recover a sum of money to compensate for the injury.
The most common form of tort is negligence. Basically, negligence is failing to act reasonably under the circumstances. We usually think of cases involving car wrecks, but negligence is meant to cover almost every aspect of life. Hospitals can be negligent in providing care or hiring physicians to their staff. Architects can be negligent in designing buildings. Accountants can be negligent in auditing the books of their customers. Wherever there is the potential to cause harm through neglectful or unreasonable conduct, you’ll find the law of negligence.
Tort law also covers what is known as premises liability. Generally, the owner of a business or any other property that’s open to the public owes a duty of reasonable care to those who enter. Even private property owners must exercise reasonable care to protect the safety of guests and others who are invited onto the property. If you violate this duty of care, you may be liable for any damages resulting from your lack of care.
Another kind of tort is known as product liability. Those who manufacture, distribute or sell a product to the public can be liable if the product causes injury. In product liability cases, the focus shifts from the conduct of the parties to the product itself. Every product has some potential to cause harm. The question in a product liability case boils down to this. Was the product reasonably safe for its intended use? These can be complicated cases, requiring the jury to consider all of the risks and benefits associates with the product. If the jury finds that the product was not reasonably safe, then damages can be awarded.
We’ll cover more torts in the next blog.