August 18, 2019

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Tort Law: The Basics

What is Tort Law?

Tort law is a body of law that is used in court to fairly compensate a person (plaintiff) who has been injured due to the actions of another (defendant or tortfeasor). The process of tort proceedings are directed towards proving the cause of damage, assessing how much damage was sustained to the plaintiff, and compensating the plaintiff to make him or her “whole again”. In U.S. law, injuries are not constrained to physical damages and can be applied to pain and suffering, lost wages, damage to reputation, and other non-physical damages.

Plaintiffs in personal injury cases use tort law to prove that they have been injured because of the actions of the defendant, and are entitled to compensation from the defendant for that reason.

Negligence

Negligence is a breach of duty to uphold the safety of others. What is deemed as a breach of duty is determined by using the perspective of a reasonable person. For example, a reasonable person would know that it is unsafe to drive a car while intoxicated, thus an intoxicated driver would be held liable for any damages he caused because he was not acting reasonably. However, this is only one aspect of tort law that must be addressed in a personal injury case.

The other elements that must be proven to justify that a defendant is liable are:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • The defendant breached this duty of care (this is usually established by proving negligence as explained above).
  • If the defendant did not breach this duty, the plaintiff would not have been harmed.
  • The defendant owes the plaintiff compensation because the defendant’s action or inaction caused harm to the plaintiff.

In some cases, there is what is called “assumed” liability. This is commonly used in product liability and injuries that are sustained while on the job. These cases use a standard that is known as “per se negligence”. This means that the defendant is assumed to be liable because he violated a regulation or statute that led to the injury of another.

The Differences Between Tort Law and Other Forms of Law

Tort law is specifically used in “civil court”. A plaintiff in a tort case is a private citizen (sometimes a company) rather than a state government or prosecutor. The plaintiff typically seeks monetary compensation rather than attempting to put the tortfeasor in jail. 95 percent of all personal injury cases are settled before going to trial, which means that the plaintiff waives his right to sue in exchange for financial compensation (or other form of agreement). The United States has among the highest number of personal injury cases in the world each year.

Types of Torts and Personal Injury Cases

There are many different types of personal injury cases that cover virtually any form of damage caused by another. The following types of personal injuries include, but are not limited to:

  • Physical Injury – Physical injury cases typically deal with injuries that medical attention. Physical injuries can cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. Cases that include physical injury often involve vehicle crashes, medical malpractice, slip and fall and defective products.
  • Injury to Reputation – These injuries can be more difficult to prove in court, but if proved can result in substantial compensation for the plaintiff. Injuries of reputation are often referred to as defamation (libel and slander).
  • Intentional Injury – These are cases in which the defendant intentionally acted in a way that could be reasonably foreseen to cause injury to another. This form of injury is seen in assault cases and sometimes in product liability cases. These cases can also result in charging the defendant with criminal violations, and in civil cases can also result in the defendant being required to pay punitive damages (damages intended to punish the defendant for their behavior).

Damages

It is important to note that tort law is primarily determined on a state level, which means that the law will change depending on the state in which the negligence and/or injury occurred. Damages that are allocated through personal injury cases can reach millions of dollars depending on the severity of the injury. However, some states have what is known as a “damages cap”. This is a statute that limits the maximum amount that a plaintiff can receive for his injury. For example, if a jury awards a plaintiff $500,000 for his case, a legislatively imposed damage cap might limit the actual amount awarded to $250,000 and thus override the jury’s judgement of a fair compensation.

Statutes of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are legislatively-imposed time limits set for different types of cases. Statutes of limitations are different in each state, and prevent you from recovering if you do not take legal action within the time frame set by the statute of limitations. This is why it is very important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible if you believe you may have a personal injury claim in order to avoid losing your right to take legal action.

About Zac Pingle

Zac Pingle was born in Florida, and grew up in several places across the United States. From a young age, Zac developed a taste for writing, reading under trees and getting into trouble. Currently, Zac resides in Oregon as a college student where he aspires to become an English professor.