If you have watched many primetime legal dramas, midafternoon episodes of “Judge of the Hour” or have spent much time perusing major cable news networks, you have probably heard the term tort. While your first inclination may have been to think of that delicious pastry that graces the window display of your favorite bakery, a tort is actually a technical legal term that can have a big impact on your daily life. If you have ever been in an accident, been robbed, assaulted or were otherwise the victim of a crime, someone has committed a tort against you. If you are still wondering just what qualifies as a tort and why it might be important to you, read on.
The term tort is a classic (read old) term used to describe wrongful acts committed against others. Deriving from the Latin phrase torquere which meant twisted or wrong, Tort is a body of law that has developed from a variety of sources as a method of providing relief from acts committed by others which have caused your harm.
Torts are derived from both the common law and legislation, which are laws passed by legislative bodies such as your local, state or federal governments. Common law, in contrast, is a set of principles developed over time through decisions by judges. Together, common law and legislation set standards for society, including which actions are considered right or wrong. If you commit an act that is considered wrong, or unjust, under the law against another person you have committed a tort and have earned the title of tortfeasor.
The Elements of a Tort
While this explanation may seem clear cut, in order for an act to qualify as a tort it needs to meet certain elements. The elements needed to prove a certain act committed against you was a tort include: duty, breach of duty, causation and injury.
A duty refers to an affirmative duty to act or not to act that is owed to a person by another. For example: in general, people are owed a duty by other people not to be hit or assaulted. Once someone has wrongfully committed that act, they are said to have breached their duty, which is the second element of proving a tort. Causation is a tricky element and minor details that vary from state to state can greatly affect your legal claim. In its most basic form, you must prove that a person’s individual actions caused a breach of duty. While this is simple in cases where a person punches you in the face, it may not be as easy when someone’s lack of action, or negligence, causes a tort to occur. Finally, in order to successfully win a tort claim the person who has been wronged must prove that they have suffered an injury as a result of the tortfeasor’s actions.
Compensation Available if You Have Suffered a Tort
If you have suffered a tort and can successfully prove each of the required elements in court, you may be entitled to recover for the damages you have suffered as a result of the other person’s actions. The amount and type of damages will vary from case to case. For some torts you may only be able to recover compensatory damages, or money that helps get you back to the same situation that you were in prior to suffering damage as a result of the tort. In other situations, you may be able to recover punitive damages that go above and beyond your actual loss.
If you believe you have been the victim of a tort, a qualified personal injury lawyer is an important first step in protecting the rights of you and your loved ones. An experienced attorney will discuss the particulars of the legislation in your city or state and will help guide you through the process of recovering from the damage you have suffered. While this primer is meant to serve as a guide to torts and their general effects, it cannot replace the expert advice of experienced legal counsel in helping make you whole again after you have suffered the wrongdoing of another.