Classification of Torts

What are Torts?
      The word 'Tort' comes from the Latin word 'tortum', which means not straight. Torts are legal wrongs; more specifically redressable civil wrongs i.e. wrongs that can be compensated by damages. Torts are civil wrongs which violate the individual rights of a person.
      Tort is conduct that harms other people or their property. It is a private wrong against a person for which the injured person may recover damages, i.e. monetary compensation. The injured party may sue the wrongdoer (tortfeasor) to recover damages to compensate for the harm or loss incurred. The conduct that is a tort may also be a crime. Some torts require intent before there will be liability and some torts require no intent. In other words, in some cases, there is liability for a tort even though the person committing the tort did not have any intent to do wrong.
       A tort is a private wrong, a trespass against a person or his/her property for which a damages award or other judicial remedy may be sought. Most torts arise from either an intentional, wrongful action or from a negligent action. Many torts are also crimes, and most crimes involve tortious acts. Thus a single action may result in two trials: a criminal trial and a tort (civil) trial.

What is Tort Law? 

    Tort law is that body of law which covers violations where one person’s behavior causes injury, suffering, unfair loss, or harm to another person.  This is a broad category of law that can include many different types of personal injury claims. 

     Tort law refers to the set of laws that provides remedies to individuals who have suffered harm by the unreasonable acts of another. Tort law is based on the idea that people are liable for the consequences of their actions, whether intentional or accidental, if they cause harm to another person or entity. Torts are the civil wrongs that form the basis of civil lawsuits.

     Tort law is the body of laws that enables people to seek compensation for wrongs committed against them. When someone’s actions cause some type of harm to another, whether it be physical harm to another person, or harm to someone’s property or reputation, the harmed or injured person or entity may seek damages through the court.

    Tort laws serve two basic, general purposes: 1) to compensate the victim for any losses caused by the defendant’s violations; and 2) to deter (discourage) the defendant from repeating the violation in the future.

What is a Tort Case?

     Tort law determines whether a person should be held legally accountable for an injury against another, as well as what type of compensation the injured party is entitled to. The four elements to every successful tort case are: duty, breach of duty, causation and injury. For a tort claim to be well-founded, there must have been a breach of duty made by the defendant against the plaintiff, which resulted in an injury.
Types of Torts
     There are basically three types of torts: intentional torts, torts based on negligence and strict liability torts.
       An intentional tort is a civil wrong that occurs when the wrongdoer engages in intentional conduct that results in damage to another. Striking another person in a fight is an intentional act that would be the tort of battery. Striking a person accidentally would not be an intentional tort since there was not intent to strike the person. This may, however, be a negligent act. Careless conduct that results in damage to another is negligence. The intent element of these torts is satisfied when the tortfeasor acts with the desire to bring about harmful consequences and is substantially certain that such consequences will follow. Mere reckless behavior, sometimes called willful and wanton behavior, does not give rise to the level of an intentional tort.
     If a person commits an intentional tort, this means that he intentionally violated a legal duty he owed to the victim. This is different from a negligent tort, in which the tortfeasor violated the duty that every member of society has to exercise reasonable care in their actions with others. The distinction between an intentional tort and a negligent tort is important for several reasons. First, if an individual wants to sue for an intentional tort, he must prove that the tortfeasor acted with "intent." This is a separate legal requirement that the plaintiff must fulfill, in addition to proving all the other facts of the case and proving actual damage.
     Strict liability, sometimes called absolute liability, is the legal responsibility for damage, or injury, even if the person found strictly liable was not at fault or negligent – the injured party is not required to prove fault – liability is strict. An example of strict liability is injury caused by wild animals in the care of the tortfeasor; because the tortfeasor owns tigers, the tortfeasor is responsible for any injury, without the need for the injured party to prove negligence.
Classification of Torts
     Torts are classified mainly into the following categories:
    A trespass is an unauthorized action with respect to a person or property.

Trespass to person
     A trespass to the person consists of any contact with someone’s person for which consent was not given. This is technically described as a battery. An assault would be a situation where a plaintiff reasonably believed a battery upon his person was about to be committed. An example of an assault would be where one person swings his fist at another person. If the person made contact, this would be an assault and battery. A defense to assault and battery would be in cases of self-defense.
Trespass to Land
     A trespass to land involves going on or above the property of another without permission. A trespass can also involve the unpermitted use of the airspace of another’s property as well as actually going on the actual property. However, this rule has been modified to allow the flight of aircraft above the land as long as it does not interfere with the proper use of the land.
Trespass to Personal Property
     A trespass to personal property is the use of someone’s property without the person’s permission. A conversion occurs when personal property is taken by a defendant and kept from its true owner without permission of the owner. Conversion is the civil side of the crime of theft. The concept is based on the tortfeasor converting something to their own use. It also requires an intention to deprive the true owner of their ownership – so if you put a mobile in your pocket thinking it was yours it would not be conversion.
      Negligence is a failure to follow the degree of care that would be followed by a reasonably prudent person in order to avoid foreseeable harm. A person can be negligent if he or she acts with less care than a reasonable person would use under similar circumstances.
      Bob drove a car on a country road at 35 miles an hour. The maximum speed limit was 45 miles an hour. He struck and killed a cow that was crossing the road. The owner of the cow sued Bill for the value of the cow. Bill said that since he was not driving above the speed limit, there could be no liability for negligence. Was this defense valid? No. A person must at all times act in the manner in which a reasonable person would act under the circumstances. The fact that Bill was driving within the speed limit was only one of the circumstances to consider. The weather or the condition of the road may have made it unreasonable to drive at 35 miles an hour. Driving slower than the speed limit does not in and of itself prove that the driver was acting reasonably.  
     The reasonable person standard varies in accordance with the situation. The degree of care required of a person is that which an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under similar circumstances. This does not necessarily mean a degree of care that would have prevented the harm from occurring. The elements required to establish negligence are: the presence of duty; a voluntary act or failure to act (an omission) that breaches the duty; proximate causation of harm; and damage (i.e., the breach of duty causes harm to the plaintiff).
     The breach of duty must result from a voluntary act or failure to act. In order for someone to be legally responsible for damage, it is necessary to show that the wrongful act was the proximate cause of the harm. The injury must be shown to be the natural and probable result or consequence of the alleged act of negligence. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant´s negligence proximately caused the Plaintiff’s injury. There may be more than one proximate cause of an accident. The final element of negligence is damages. A plaintiff may recover monetary damages to compensate the plaintiff for economic losses such as lost wages and medical expenses. A plaintiff may also recover non-economic losses such as for pain and suffering. The former are claimed on a normal accounting basis, and the latter are at the discretion of the judge.
      Nuisance is a civil wrong, consisting of anything wrongfully done or permitted that interferes with or annoys others in the enjoyment of their legal rights. It is anything that annoys or disturbs the free use of one’s property or that renders its ordinary use or physical occupation uncomfortable. A nuisance is anything that interferes with the rights of citizens, the enjoyment of their property, or their comfort. It is to be noted that an unreasonable interference with another person’s use and enjoyment of his/her property is determined by the injury caused by the condition and is not determined by the conduct of the party creating the condition. A nuisance is differentiated from a trespass to land. A trespass is an invasion of a person’s interest in the exclusive possession of their land, whereas a nuisance is an interference with the use and enjoyment of the land and does not require interference with the possession. A person injured by a nuisance can recover damages in an action at law for tort. Similarly, damages can also be recovered for injury resulting from the legal use of a property, if such use substantially damages the property of another.
        Nuisances are divided into different subheads such as nuisances per se, public or common nuisances, private nuisances, etc.
Public Nuisance
      A public nuisance exists when an act or condition is subversive of public order or constitutes an obstruction of public rights. In other words, a public nuisance involves an unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public. In order to constitute a public nuisance, it is not necessary that it affects the whole community. It is a public nuisance if the injury or annoyance affects the people of a local neighborhood. Public nuisances always arise out of unlawful acts. Therefore, acts that are lawful or authorized by a valid statute, or which the public convenience demands, cannot be a public nuisance. A public nuisance can constitute either a crime or may be the subject of a civil action by public officials or private individuals. At common law, the term “public nuisance” covers a variety of minor criminal offenses that interfere, for example, with the public health, safety, morals, peace, or convenience.
      Public nuisances include for example, a manufacturer who has polluted a stream and might be fined 5 and be ordered to pay the cost of cleanup. Public safety nuisances include shooting fireworks in the streets or storing explosives.
Private Nuisance
    A private nuisance is a civil wrong that affects a single individual or a definite number of persons in the enjoyment of some private right which is not common to the public.
      In other words, a private nuisance is a substantial and unreasonable interference with the private use and enjoyment of one’s land. Examples include interference with the physical condition of the land, disturbing the comfort of its occupants, or threatening injury or disturbance in the future.
      Nuisances that interfere with the physical condition of the land include vibration or blasting that damages a house; destruction of crops; raising of a water table; or the pollution of soil, a stream, or an underground water supply. Examples of nuisances interfering with the comfort, convenience, or health of an occupant are foul odors, noxious gases, smoke, dust, loud noises, excessive light, or high temperatures, e.g. a landowner burning plastic and old tyres so that the smell and smoke affect his neighbors.
    Defamation is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual. The law of defamation protects a person’s reputation and good name against communications that are false and derogatory.
     Defamation consists of two torts: libel and slander. Libel consists of any defamation that can be seen, most typically in writing. Slander is a form of defamation that consists of making false oral statements about a person which would damage that person’s reputation. If I spread a rumor that my neighbor has been in jail and this is not true, I could be held liable for slander.
     A person is liable for the defamation of another. In order to prove defamation, the plaintiff must prove:
● that a statement was made about the plaintiff’s reputation, honesty or integrity that is not true; ● there was publication to a third party (i.e., another person hears or reads the statement); and
● the plaintiff suffers damage as a result of the statement.
      Public figures have a more difficult time proving defamation. Politicians or celebrities are understood to take some risk in being in the public eye and many of them profit by their public persona. A celebrity must prove that the party defaming them knew the statements were false, made them with actual malice (intent to harm), or was negligent in saying or writing them. Proving these elements can be an uphill battle. However, an outrageously inaccurate statement that’s harmful to one’s career can be grounds for a successful defamation suit, even if the subject is famous. For example, some celebrities have won suits against tabloids for false statements regarding their ability to work, such as an inaccurate statement that the star had a drinking problem.
      Another important aspect of defamation is the difference between fact and opinion. Statements 6 made as "facts" are frequently actionable defamation. Statements of opinion or pure opinion are not actionable. Some jurisdictions decline to recognize any legal distinction between fact and opinion. To win damages in a libel case, the plaintiff must first show that the statements were "statements of fact or mixed statements of opinion and fact" and second that these statements were false. Conversely, a typical defense to defamation is that the statements are opinion. One of the major tests to distinguish whether a statement is fact or opinion is whether the statement can be proved true or false in a court of law. If the statement can be proved true or false, then, on that basis, the case will be heard by a jury to determine whether it is true or false. For example, your statement of opinion is just an opinion, and does not contain specific facts that can be proved untrue. “The waiters and waitresses at the Tivoli Restaurant are too slow and the food is too spicy.” This is a statement of opinion. “I got food poisoning at the Tivoli Restaurant” is potentially a defamatory statement if, in fact, the restaurant can prove that you never contracted food poison.”
      Some statements, while libelous or slanderous, are absolutely privileged in the sense that the statements can be made without fear of a lawsuit for slander. The best example is a statement made in a court of law. An untrue statement made by a witness about a person in court which damages that person’s reputation will generally not be held to be liability to the witness as far as slander is concerned.
Strict Liability
    Strict or absolute liability is the legal responsibility for damage or injury, even if the person found strictly liable was not at fault. In order to prove strict liability in tort, plaintiff needs to prove only that the tort happened and that the defendant was responsible for the act or omission. In the case of strict liability in the USA, neither good faith nor the fact that the defendant took all possible precautions is a valid defense. A common example of strict liability is imposing product liability in the case of defectively manufactured products.
      Strict liability applies especially in cases involving hazardous or dangerous activities. Generally, liability based on a tort only arises where the defendant either intended to cause harm to the plaintiff or in situations where the defendant is negligent. However, in some areas, liability can arise even when there is no intention to cause harm or negligence. For example, when a contractor uses dynamite which causes debris to be thrown onto the land of another and damages a landowner’s house, the landowner may recover damages from the contractor even if the contractor was not negligent and did not intend to cause any harm. Basically, society is saying that the activity is so dangerous to the public that there must be liability. However, society is not going so far as to outlaw the activity.
     Example:Acme Construction Company was constructing a highway. It was necessary to blast rock with dynamite. The corporation’s employees did this with the greatest of care. In spite of their precautions, some flying fragments of rock damaged a neighboring house. The owner of the house 7 sued the corporation for damages. The corporation raised the defense that the owner was suing for tort damages and that such damages could not be imposed because the corporation had been free from fault. Was this defense valid? No. While ordinarily fault is the basis of tort liability, there are cases in which absolute liability is imposed on the actor. This means that when harm is caused, it is no defense that none was intended or that due care had been exercised to prevent the harm.
     Other examples of absolute liability situations would be harm caused by storage of flammable gas and explosives, factories which produce dangerous fumes or smoke in populated areas, and the production of nuclear material.
Vicarious Liability
     Vicarious liability is the responsibility of the superior for the acts of their subordinate. It is the responsibility of a third party who has the right, ability or duty to control the activities of a violator. Typically liability flows from the relationship of master and servant. The relationship includes the power to direct the servant in the execution of the duties of his/her employment, and to control the acts that no injury is done to third persons.
     An employer can be held vicariously liable for an employee’s tortious act against the person or property of a third party in a transaction of the employer’s business. If a negligent act is committed by an employee acting within the general scope of her or his employment, the employer will be held liable for damages. For example, if the driver of a gasoline delivery truck runs a red light on the way to a gas station and strikes another car, causing injury, the gasoline delivery company will be responsible for the damage if the driver is found to be negligent.


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