What is Tort Law?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tort law is a branch of the law which covers civil wrongs, such as defamation and trespassing, among many other transgressions. Under tort law, if someone suffers a physical, legal, or economic harm, he or she may be entitled to bring suit. If the suit is deemed valid, damages may be awarded to the victim to compensate for his or her troubles. Most of these laws are found in regional, state, and national civil codes, which often spell out limits on damages and the statute of limitations for tort cases.

Tort law is a branch of civil law.
Tort law is a branch of civil law.

Many people divide tort law into three rough categories: negligent torts, intentional torts, and strict liability torts. Torts arising out negligence are civil wrongs caused by negligent behavior or a failure to practice due diligence. For example, if you are playing soccer in the street and you accidentally kick the ball through someone's living room window, this may be a negligence tort. Medical malpractice and other forms of professional negligence are also covered under the umbrella of negligence torts.

Tort law covers civil issues like trespassing.
Tort law covers civil issues like trespassing.

Intentional torts are torts which involve a deliberate attempt to harm. Defamation is often viewed as an intentional tort, as is battery, fraud, false imprisonment, and interference with the economic operations of a company. Strict liability torts cover product liability; if a potato peeler takes your finger off when you operate it as directed, the manufacturer could be liable, for example.

Making false statements verbally or in writing may qualify as defamation, which is a subcategory of tort law.
Making false statements verbally or in writing may qualify as defamation, which is a subcategory of tort law.

Tort law also covers issues like nuisances, such as noise pollution and loose livestock. In some countries, industrial pollution and releases of toxins are covered under tort law as “toxic torts,” allowing organizations and individuals to bring suit against companies which pollute. Nuisance torts can sometimes be challenging to prove, as the definition of a “nuisance” often varies from person to person.

As can be seen from some of the examples above, a tort doesn't have to cause physical injury or distress. It might cause economic damage, by forcing someone to replace something, interfering with someone's business, or causing someone to miss work. Or it may cause damage to someone's reputation or quality of life. In order for a tort case to succeed in court, the lawyers must generally be able to prove that the accused party had committed the wrong in question, and that the client suffered as a result. Damages may be awarded by a jury or a judge, depending on the case.

Incidentally, don't confuse “tort,” a branch of the law, with “torte,” a rich cake which typically includes a high volume of nuts or chocolate and eggs, with little to no flour.

Tort law covers issues like noise pollution.
Tort law covers issues like noise pollution.
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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Discussion Comments


I am reading for an exam and I want to get a clear understanding of what tort law is all about. This is kind of major to me.


Potomac Ltd should be advised that liability ensues on grounds of "Due diligence" in (1) tort if safety protocols and procedures are not made to follow and (2) crime for Rob's act if it can be proven that consent was given to a subject with unclean DMV record(s) that would not qualify him as a delivery man by mode of vehicle.


I think in the case of Potomac Ltd. this is not a case of tort. This can be a crime that does not includes mens ria. Tort is something civil. --Mrunal


If Rob has not yet delivered the documents then he is still "on company time" and as such Potomac would be liable under tort law.

Unless Potomac has company policy which requires Rob to drive and use his cellphone at the same time, Potomac is off the hook for the criminal charges.

Rob was acting irresponsibly (and most likely criminally given today's distracted driving laws) and the company is not responsible for those actions any more than if he used a company car to perform a drive by shooting.


i want to know the history of tort.


There are a number of considerations which must be addressed and there is an insufficiency of information:

1: Who owns the vehicle and what level of insurance is there for the vehicle?

2: To whom is Rob speaking on the phone; is it a company phone; has the company supplied a hands free kit; was that kit in use and has the company issued guidelines to its staff on the use of mobile phones while driving?


This sounds great! but how did tort laws come about?


i would love to know more about tort. what are the advantages and the disadvantages.


i usually think it is both and depending on the legislation if driving while using a mobile phone is wrong when it is a crime committed and also it is a negligent act because if the person realized that using mobile phone while driving is an offense he/she shouldn't have used the mobile phone in the first place.


It seems to be a reasonable explanation for law of tort.



I want to know what others think. I am in an online paralegal class and was trying to get a clear understanding of tort law.


Rob, a director of Potomac Ltd, offers to take documents for the company to ASIC for lodgement on his way home. He became distracted as he was driving along and talking into his mobile phone. His car mounted the pavement and seriously injured a pedestrian.

You are asked to advise Potomac Ltd whether it is liable in (1) tort and (2) crime for Rob’s act.

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