What is Tort Law?

Tort law is the area of the law that covers most civil suits. Generally, every claim that arises in civil court, with the exception of contractual disputes, falls under tort law. The concept of this area of law is to redress a wrong done to a person and provide relief from the wrongful acts of others, usually by awarding monetary damages as compensation. The original intent of tort is to provide full compensation for proved harms. Lawsuits involving contracts fall under contract law.

Tort law requires those who are found to be at fault for harming others to compensate the victims. Typical harms include the loss of past or future income, payment of medical expenses, payment for pain and suffering, and may also include additional punitive damages that are meant to punish the plaintiff in excess of full compensation.

BREAKING DOWN Tort Law

Tort law can be split into three categories: negligent torts, intentional torts, and strict liability torts. Negligent torts encompass harm done to people generally through the failure of another to exercise a certain level of care, usually defined as a reasonable standard of care. Accidents are a standard example of negligent torts. Intentional torts, on the other hand, refer to harms done to people intentionally by the willful misconduct of another, such as assault, fraud, and theft.

Strict liability torts, unlike negligence and intentional torts, are not concerned with the culpability of the person doing the harm. Instead, strict liability focuses on the act itself. If someone or some entity commits a certain act - for example, producing a defective product - then that person or company is responsible for the damages from that act, regardless of the level of care exercised or their intentions.

Tort Examples

In February 2016, a self-driving car made by Google crashed into a bus in Mountain View, Calif. The car sensed a group of sandbags positioned around a storm drain and swerved into another lane to avoid them, slamming into the side of a public transit bus. This was the first reported case of a self-driving car causing an accident, not just being a part of one.

According to liability tort law, drivers can seek compensation from a manufacturer for a faulty part of a car, usually an airbag or a tire. However, this liability tort now extends to self-driving cars, and Google can be found liable for the damages.

Amy Williams filed a negligence lawsuit against Quest Diagnostics and its subsidiary Athena Diagnostics for the wrongful death of her son, Christian Millare. In 2007, Athena Diagnostics misclassified a mutation in Millare's gene, which directly resulted in seizure and death in 2008. On June 27, 2016, Quest Diagnostics filed a motion to dismiss the case under the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims.

An example of an intentional tort is the ruling between Gawker and Hulk Hogan on March 18, 2016. Hogan was awarded $140 million due to intentional tort law since it was deemed that Gawker intentionally invaded his privacy to obtain video evidence of a private act.

Tort Reform

Tort reform refers to the critical stance taken against many tort cases, especially in the United States but also elsewhere, that many lawsuits today are frivolous. In the United States, more than 15 million lawsuits are filed each year, and advocates of tort reform claim that far too many of these are based on flimsy grounds, or are filed to intimidate or influence outcomes. These frivolous cases are expensive and time-consuming, using up resources that could be better expended elsewhere. Tort reform in the U.S. has especially focused on lawsuits related to medical claims and healthcare costs, including the unnecessary use of costly medical tests and the high price of drugs due to patents.