What is Tort Law?

Tort law is the area of law that protects people from bad acts of others. When a person commits a tort, they violate civil law. If a person is damaged by someone else’s wrongful act, they can bring a claim for compensation against the person who commits the tort. The purpose of tort law is to ensure that wrongdoers pay for the damage that they cause instead of the victims.

Torts aren’t crimes

A tort can be a crime. However, tort law is not criminal law. Tort law gives a victim a civil remedy in the courts. Sometimes, a tort is also a crime. Whether or not the state pursues criminal charges, a person can pursue a civil remedy in the courts.

A litigant doesn’t need the permission of a prosecutor or a district attorney in order to initiate a court action. Instead, they draft a complaint. That’s a document that lists what the other party did wrong. It asks for the relief that’s allowed under the law. A tort action begins when the person files the claim in a court.

The damage isn’t always physical

Physical injuries are one type of damages from a tort. A person can have emotional injuries. They might have lost their peace of mind, their privacy or even their business or personal reputation. Any of these physical or emotional losses might give a person grounds to bring a claim for recovery under tort law.

Types of torts

There are many different types of torts. They fall into the following categories:

Negligence

Each person in society has a duty to act in a way that doesn’t post an unreasonable danger to others. When a person acts in an unreasonably dangerous way, they act negligently. When their negligent act damages someone else, they can be liable. A few of the ways that negligence can occur include:

  • Car accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Slip and falls
  • Falling objects
  • Failing to provide appropriate security at an event
  • Construction accidents

Product liability

People and companies that make and sell products have a duty to design and manufacture them safely. If you’re the victim of a defective product, you usually don’t have to prove negligence. Instead, you just have to prove that you’re hurt because of a defective product.

Intentional torts

  • Assault
  • Battery
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • False imprisonment

Property

  • Trespass
  • Premises liability – the duty to keep your property safe

Dignitary torts

  • Invasion of privacy
  • Malicious prosecution
  • Defamation

Common law and statutory law

Tort law comes from both common law and statutory law. Common law is general law of fairness and justice that develops through court decisions over time. Most modern tort theories of negligence come from common law. Courts today still uphold common law principles.

Tort law can also come from statutory law. A legislative body might pass a law that modifies common law. They might also pass a law that creates a brand new tort.

The burden of proof

Civil cases are usually easier to win than criminal cases. That’s because civil cases typically have a lower burden of proof for the plaintiff. They often have to prove their case only by a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, a civil jury may not have to find its verdict unanimously. Some states allow a civil jury to render a verdict even though some jurors disagree about the correct result.

How a case proceeds through the courts

A tort case begins when a party files a complaint in the appropriate court. The other side has time to respond. The parties have time to conduct discovery in order to learn about the case and gather evidence.

One or both parties can bring preliminary motions. These motions can ask the judge to throw out certain pieces of evidence or even the entire case. In most jurisdictions, the courts order the parties to try and resolve the case without a trial. If the parties are unable to resolve the case, it proceeds to trial and the jury renders its verdict.

Who practices tort law?

Tort lawyers live and work throughout the United States. They might work for big firms. They might handle torts as part of a broad, generalized practice, or they might focus exclusively on torts. It’s common for tort attorneys to make a career out of practicing only tort law. While some tort attorneys work in solo practice, it’s common for tort attorneys to work as part of a medium-sized firm or a large group practice.

Lawyers who like trial work

Tort law is trial law. Lawyers can expect long days working hard on big cases. If a case goes to trial, the lawyers present their case to the jury. A trial can be as short as a few hours, or it can last for days or even weeks. A tort lawyer has to prepare their case and be ready for any eventuality.

They must know the details of how to succeed in trial law. They must know how to prepare filing documents. Even things like serving court papers on the other party or serving a subpoena can make a critical difference. Trial lawyers must be confident in their decisions. They must know when to try a case and when to advise a client to accept a settlement.

Lawyers who like rules

Tort law is technical. There are lots of rules. Tort lawyers must know where to file a case. That’s called jurisdiction. They must know whether to file the case in state or federal court. Once they choose the court, they must know what specific court to bring the case to within that court system. Choosing the wrong court can devastate the case before you even begin.

Lawyers who choose tort law also have to know and enjoy working with rules of civil procedure. These are the rules that govern how a person brings a case in court. From how to file a court motion to how to compel a witness to attend trial, there are often hundreds of rules and sub-rules to know. Knowing how to use these rules effectively can mean the difference between losing the case on summary judgment and winning the case at trial.

Tort lawyers also have to understand rules of evidence. These are the rules that govern how to conduct a trial. Lawyers must know everything from how to question a witness to how to admit an official record at trial. They must also know how to present the case within the confines of the rules in a way that the jury can understand.

Lawyers with patience

Practicing tort law takes patience. Tort cases often take months and even years to travel through the court system. Lawyers must know how to negotiate a settlement. They must be able to advise a client to reject a settlement that isn’t in the client’s best interests. They must also know when it’s best to accept the offer and resolve the case.

Why Become a Tort Lawyer?

Tort attorneys do important work to make society safer. They hold wrongdoers accountable. They provide relief for victims and help them navigate the complex and stressful legal system which can be daunting to someone who isn’t legally trained. Lawyers who represent defendants in tort cases ensure that the system isn’t abused. Tort attorneys play a critical role in helping the justice system work.

Tort law is challenging. It gives the attorneys who practice it the opportunity to become experts in their field. They learn to evaluate cases, build evidence, conduct trials and make strategic decisions that are calculated to achieve the best possible outcome in the case. For attorneys who like the satisfaction that comes with hard work, tort law is a viable choice.

Making rights out of wrongs

Tort lawyers help people who need help. They are highly skilled, trial lawyers who advocate for their clients in and out of the courtroom. Tort lawyers make sure that responsible parties pay for their damages and that people receive fair compensation when they’re victimized by another person’s wrongful conduct. Tort law can be a stable and lucrative specialization for a legal career.