By definition, a tort is a kind of civil law that deals with damages that one can collect for wrongdoings. In its most general form, a tort is an action that causes harm to another and covers both intentional and unintentional harm. Some torts can arise from criminal offenses or they can be negligence offenses and may not fall under criminal law, but are dealt with under civil law. In order to win a tort case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions or lack of actions caused them harm. Tort cases can cover not only physical harm but emotional or employment harm as well.
Tort cases cover a wide variety of actions that may result in harm. They can include kinds of intentional harm such as an assault or battery. They can also encompass harm against property such as trespassing. Harm against people’s creations or character like defamation or copyright infringement are also under this heading. The most common type of torts are negligence torts and encompass things like auto accidents, emotional distress or malpractice. In order to be successful a tort case must contain the following four elements.
The first element of a negligence tort case is the presence of a duty to do something. In the case of a doctor, for example, they have a duty to provide care correctly. Most often the duty that is violated in a negligence tort is the duty to behave responsibly. All human beings have to behave in a responsible way and react to their surroundings in a reasonable manner. For instance, if someone gets behind the wheel of a car then they have a duty to drive in a reasonable and responsible manner. Unless a duty exists, then it cannot be broken and so a tort would not apply.
The second element of a tort is that the duty mentioned in element one has to be breached in some way. As an example, if someone causes an accident due to driving recklessly, they have violated this element of a tort. They had a duty to drive responsibly and, by not doing so, they are liable for any damages that are caused by their negligence. What exactly that reasonable level of care or responsibility is must be determined on a case by case basis and only a judge can make the decision that the duty has been violated.
The third element of a negligence tort is the presence of an injury. The breach of the duty must have caused some kind of injury in order for a tort case to be brought. This injury can be physical, emotional or an injury to property. This can also include damages that can be quantified monetarily such as loss of wages. Damages and injury must be able to be transferred into a dollar amount or else it can’t be included in any case.
The last element of a tort is that the plaintiff has to prove that the breach of duty was what caused the injury or damages. Most of the time, this is the most difficult part of a tort case to prove. For instance, in an auto accident, the plaintiff must prove that the other party was at fault for the accident. In the case of malpractice, the patient would have to demonstrate that the doctor’s negligence in their case caused the damage that they suffered.
While negligence torts can sometimes be linked to criminal cases, that is not always necessary. There have been many publicized cases of someone being acquitted in a criminal court but later found guilty of negligence in a civil tort case. This is primarily because the burden of proof for a similar case is very different to a criminal case. A criminal case must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt but, in a civil case, it only has to be proven that it is more likely than not. This means that civil tort cases are often much easier to win, even if a criminal case was filed for the same offense.