What is Ex Delicto?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ex delicto is a Latin term that translates as “from a wrong,” used in the legal community to refer to something that happens because of a wrongful action. People can bring an action ex delicto, a legal suit in court, against the person who commits the wrong to receive damages and other compensation. This term is not in wide use throughout the world and there are some differing conventions in its usage.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Historically, this term referred to both civil and criminal wrongs. Civil wrongs, also known as torts, include any situation where a person experiences damages because another person fails to fulfill legal responsibilities. This includes everything from a breach of contract to injuries sustained in a car accident with an inattentive driver. Criminal wrongs are violations of laws intended to maintain public order. In international law, “ex delicto” may still be used in both senses.

In other regions, this term refers exclusively to torts. "Ex delicto" is used especially commonly in contract law to differentiate between damages caused by breaches of a contract, and the results of legal activities performed with the legal purview of the contract, known as ex contractu. Contract law can become extremely complicated and differentiating between different types of situations that may arise in the course of a legal contract is important, as it may make the difference between having a suit and being unable to take a matter to court.

When a matter is deemed ex delicto, it indicates that a person or entity sustained damages as a result of the actions of someone else. This can include physical, financial, and emotional damages. If the person behind the actions can be identified, that person can be vulnerable to suit. It is possible for people to be prosecuted in court for criminal actions, as well as being sued in a civil court for damages, as seen when murderers are convicted in criminal court and ordered to pay damages to the family of the victim in civil court.

The use of Latin in legal jargon is a topic of discussion in some areas of the legal community. Some people feel that Latin should be phased out to make legalese, the language used by the legal community, more easy to understand. Others suggest that Latin has a long role in legal history and that replacing Latin terms with plain language would be a disservice to the legal profession.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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