Civil tort law is a broad area of law which governs wrongdoing by one individual against another individual. Civil torts are wrongs, other than breaches of contract, which cause harm or loss.

The individual or entity that commits the wrong may be held liable for the damage or loss that they cause. The purpose of tort laws are to compensate victims as well as to hopefully deter or discourage wrongdoing.

Tort laws provide a mechanism for injured parties to recover monetary damages for reasonable harm which was caused by or was the direct result of the other party’s breach of their duty of care. The standard of care is what a reasonable individual would do in the same or similar situation.

Wrongdoing may include things which cause:

  • Physical or economic injury;
  • Pain and suffering;
  • Violate:
    • Privacy;
    • Property; or
    • Constitutional rights; or
  • Cause damage to a reputation.

What is Tort Law Liability?

Tort law liability is a term which describes the liability that an individual or entity may face for causing injury, harm, or damage to another individual. The action must either be:

  • Intentional;
  • Negligent; or
  • A violation of a statute.

The party that commits a tort is referred to as the tortfeasor. A tortfeasor incurs tort liability, meaning that they will be required to reimburse the victim for any harm which they caused. In other words, a tortfeasor that is found liable, or responsible, for an individual’s injuries will most likely be required to pay damages.

Pursuant to the majority of tort laws, the injuries which are suffered by the plaintiff do not have to be physical. Tortfeasors may also be required to pay damages for other types of harm, such as a violation of personal rights or emotional distress.

For more information, see the related LegalMatch article: What is Tort Law?

What are Some Examples of Torts?

Civil tort laws cover a wide variety of harmful behavior and wrongs. Examples of the more common civil torts may include:

  • Civil battery or civil assault, depending upon the facts of the case;
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Trespass to land, or real property, or trespass to chattels, or personal property;
  • Products liability;
  • Wrongful death;
  • Defamation;
  • Invasion of privacy; and
  • Negligence.

The most common basis for a tort lawsuit is a claim of negligence, which requires the plaintiff to show:

  • The defendant owed them a duty of care;
  • The defendant breached that duty of care; and
  • That the breach caused the plaintiff’s injury or harm.

Common examples of negligent torts include the following personal injury claims:

  • Slip and fall accidents;
  • Car, truck, or motorcycle accidents;
  • Bicycle accidents;
  • Medical malpractice; and
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress.

What is the Difference Between a Crime and a Tort?

Although some torts are also crimes, there is a difference between a crime and a tort. A tort is a wrong against an individual or property.

An individual who commits a tort is liable for the injury or harm they caused. Crimes are also wrongful acts, however, the state or federal government has classified the act as illegal.

This type of wrongful act is a violation of a state or a federal law. A defendant who is found liable for a tort will owe a plaintiff monetary damages.

Defendants who are convicted of crimes may be punished by the government and may face:

  • Fines;
  • Incarceration; or
  • Other types of criminal penalties.

What is a Tortfeasor?

Tortfeasors are parties that commit a tort, or civil wrongdoing. A tortfeasor, if found liable, will be required to reimburse the plaintiff for any damages they incurred. In a civil lawsuit, the tortfeasor is referred to as the defendant.

Can More than One Person be a Tortfeasor in a Civil Case?

Yes, more than one individual may be a tortfeasor in a civil case. When two or more individuals or entities are potentially liable in the same tort action it is known as joint liability.

Joint liability often complicates a case because there is more than one party that may be legally responsible for the harm the plaintiff suffered. For example, suppose two tortfeasors injured the plaintiff in an automobile accident.

In this example, if one of the defendants is financially unable to pay or passes away, the other defendant may pay the plaintiff the entire amount of damages.

This type of liability may complicate a case because more than one individual or entity could be legally responsible for the plaintiff’s harm. For example, suppose two tortfeasors injured the same plaintiff in a car accident. One defendant may pay the plaintiff the entire amount of damages owed to the plaintiff if the second defendant is financially unable to or passes away.

Is Several Liability the Same as Joint Liability?

Several liability is a legal concept which refers to each of the tortfeasors being held accountable for the damages that they personally caused. For example, each defendant in the case would be required to pay the plaintiff a percentage of the damages award.

What Does Joint and Several Liability Mean?

If there are multiple tortfeasors, they may be jointly and severally liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. This type of liability allows the plaintiff to sue each tortfeasor as if they were liable for the entire amount of the plaintiff’s injuries, regardless of what percentage of the injuries they actually caused.

This form of liability is distinct from other types of liability is that the tortfeasors must determine amongst themselves how much each will pay.

What are the Different Types of Tort Liability?

There are different types of tort liability which may involve numerous different factors. For example, a tortfeasor may be liable to multiple victims if they injured a group of people.

On the other hand, multiple tortfeasors may be held liable for the injuries of a single victim. For example, if the individual was attacked by a group.

It is also possible for a victim to incur liability if they contribute their own injury. Other types of liability which commonly occurs in a tort setting include:

  • Joint liability where several tortfeasors are held liable for a tort against one party, referred to as being jointly liable. The amount that each tortfeasor will be required to pay may depend upon their individual degree of liability, as well as the rules in that particular jurisdiction;
  • Vicarious liability, which is where a superior is held liable for the actions of their subordinates;
  • Liability to/for third parties: Third party interactions may affect tort liability and, in some cases, an individual may be held liable for injuries which are sustained by a third party. Sometimes a person may be held liable for injuries sustained by a third party;
  • Plaintiff/victim liability: If the plaintiff contributed to their own injury, they may actually share liability with the tortfeasor, called contributory negligence. This may result in their damages award being reduced or completely barred;
  • Parent liability: Parents may, in certain cases, be held liable for the tortious actions of their children. This type of liability varies according to the jurisdiction as well as the type of tort which is involved; and
  • Strict liability which means that the tortfeasor may be held liable for a violation even if they did not intend to violate a statute. Examples of strict liability torts include activities such as harboring dangerous wild animals or transporting hazardous materials in an off-limits zone.

As discussed above, tort liability may take on many different forms depending upon the circumstances of the case. Generally, tort liability is associated with monetary awards, although some types of liability may lead to other remedies, including restraining orders or injunctions.

Should I Contact an Attorney about a Civil Lawsuit?

If you have been accused of being a tortfeasor or you need to sue a tortfeasor, it may be helpful to consult with a tort attorney. Your attorney will advise you regarding applicable laws, review your options, and explain how to proceed with your case.