What is a Wrongful Act?

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  • Written By: K. Kinsella
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 December 2019
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A wrongful act is an act that is illegal or immoral. People who commit acts that are legally classified as wrongful may have to face criminal penalties, while people who commit immoral acts do not necessarily have to face any criminal or civil penalties. In most countries each area of law has a definition of a wrongful act, and prosecutors bringing defendants to trial must attempt to prove the defendant committed a wrongful act in order to win the case.

Murder, theft, rape, and similar crimes are defined as wrongful acts under the legal systems of most countries. The police force apprehends people who commit wrongful acts and collects evidence of the act to be presented at court. Typically, courts only have legal jurisdiction to punish wrongful acts that were committed within a particular country or territory. Some countries have extradition treaties in place that allow for a person who commits a wrongful act in another country to be extradited back to that nation to stand trial. The court hearing the extradition treaty does not determine whether the accused committed a wrongful act, but instead determines whether the other nation has a basis for seeking the extradition and either approves or denies the extradition request.


Motor accidents do not typically involve court hearings, but after a collision the insurance companies of the parties involved must first determine if either driver committed a wrongful act before processing insurance payouts. A wrongful act in terms of traffic law may amount to a minor violation not punishable under criminal law, but sufficient for the party who committed the act to be held liable for the accident. Insurance companies that make payouts as a consequence of an accident can raise the insurance premium of the party involved if the payout was the consequence of a wrongful act having been committed.

Legal entities, such as courts and judicial systems, are sometimes found to have committed wrongful acts. Generally, courts commit wrongful acts when defendants are convicted on the basis of faulty evidence. People can seek damages from the judicial system as a consequence of a lawsuit being wrongfully settled.

Definitions of immoral acts that are wrongful, like the legal definition of wrongful acts, vary between societies. Even within a particular society, individuals often have their own ideas of which acts are morally wrong. People often base their notion of right or wrong on their religious or philosophical beliefs, and consequently an act that is wrongful to one person may be acceptable to another. Not all wrongful acts are treated with the same level of seriousness, and acts that do not cause harm to others are often viewed less harshly than acts that do impact other people.


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