What is Tort Law? Liability, Negligence, Obligations and Remedies

What is a Tort?

A tort is a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, for which the law provides a remedy in the form of damages or other appropriate relief to the injured party.

Exploring the Legal Definition of Tort Law: A Cornerstone of Civil Justice

Tort law is a fundamental aspect of the legal system, providing a framework for resolving disputes where one party’s actions cause harm to another.

It plays a crucial role in maintaining social order by holding individuals or entities accountable for their actions that result in injury or loss to others. This area of law is vast and multifaceted, encompassing various types of wrongs and remedies.

In general, tort law refers to the set of laws that provide remedies to individuals who have suffered harm due to the unlawful acts of others.

Unlike criminal law, which deals with offences against the state, tort law addresses wrongs that are personal in nature. It is designed not to punish the wrongdoer but to compensate the victim for their losses and restore them, as much as possible, to the position they were in before the harm occurred.

Types of Torts

Tort law is broadly categorised into three main types: negligence, intentional torts, and strict liability torts.

  • Intentional Torts: These occur when a person deliberately causes harm to another. Examples include assault, battery, false imprisonment, and defamation.

Who is a Tortfeasor?

A tortfeasor is an individual or entity that commits a tort, which is a wrongful act, whether intentional or due to negligence, that causes harm or loss to another person.

The tortfeasor is responsible for the damages caused and may be subject to civil liability, where they could be required to compensate the victim for their losses. The term is commonly used in legal contexts to denote the party who has breached a duty of care, leading to a claim.

The Role of Damages

A central element of tort law is the concept of damages – the monetary compensation awarded to the injured party. Damages in tort cases are intended to make the victim whole again.

They can include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Proving a Tort

To establish a tort, the plaintiff must typically prove four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages (Whittington Hospital NHS Trust v XX). The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed them a duty of care, breached that duty through their actions or omissions, and caused the plaintiff’s injuries or losses as a result.

What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Filing A Tort Claim In The UK and USA?

In the UK, the statute of limitations for filing most tort claims is generally three years from the date of the incident or from when the claimant became aware of the injury. This includes personal injury claims. In the USA, the statute of limitations for tort claims varies by state and type of claim. For personal injury, it typically ranges from one to six years, with two years being common.

It’s important to note that specific circumstances can alter these time frames, and different rules may apply for claims like medical malpractice or defamation. Claimants should consult legal advice to understand the specific limitations applicable to their case.

How Is Fault Determined In A Tort Case Involving Multiple Parties?

In a tort case involving multiple parties, fault is determined through a process called comparative fault or contributory negligence, depending on the jurisdiction. This process assesses each party’s degree of responsibility for the harm caused.

The court examines the actions of all involved parties, evaluating how each one’s conduct contributed to the incident. Liability is then apportioned accordingly.

For example, in a comparative fault system, if a party is found to be 30% responsible for an accident, they would be liable for 30% of the damages. This method ensures a fair distribution of liability based on each party’s contribution to the harm.

What Is The ‘Eggshell Skull’ Rule In Tort Law?

The ‘eggshell skull’ rule, also known as the ‘take your victim as you find them’ principle, dictates that a defendant is liable for all consequences resulting from their actions, even if the victim’s injuries are more severe due to a pre-existing condition or unusual vulnerability.

This means that the defendant cannot argue reduced liability because of the victim’s unforeseen susceptibility to injury.

The rule is applied to ensure that victims receive full compensation for their injuries, regardless of their prior health or condition.

Can A Tort Arise From Emotional or Psychological Harm?

A tort can arise from emotional or psychological harm. This is recognised in legal claims like infliction of emotional distress, where a plaintiff can seek damages for severe emotional or psychological harm caused by the defendant’s intentional or recklessly negligent actions.

Such claims require proving that the conduct was extreme and outrageous and directly led to the psychological harm.

The recognition of these types of torts underscores the legal system’s acknowledgement of non-physical injuries and the significant impact they can have on an individual’s well-being.

How Does Assumption of Risk Affect A Tort Claim?

Assumption of risk is a defence in tort law that can reduce or eliminate the liability of the defendant if it can be proven that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks associated with a hazardous activity that led to their injury.

This concept applies when the plaintiff was aware of the risks involved and chose to engage in the activity anyway, thereby absolving or diminishing the defendant’s responsibility – see Stoffel v Grondona (2020).

It is commonly used in cases involving sports, recreational activities, or inherently dangerous occupations.

Tort Law and Society

Tort law serves several vital functions in society. It provides a mechanism for resolving disputes peacefully and fairly.

It also serves a regulatory function by setting standards of conduct and deterring harmful behaviour. Furthermore, tort law reflects and upholds societal values by recognising and remedying instances of injustice.

Tort law is continually evolving to address new challenges and societal changes. The rise of the digital age, for example, has led to new types of torts, such as invasion of privacy through social media.

As society evolves, tort law adapts to ensure that individuals have a means to seek redress for wrongs in a changing world.


Tort law is an essential component of the legal system, providing a way for individuals to seek compensation for harm caused by others.

It balances the need to hold individuals accountable for their actions with the need to provide fair compensation to victims. As society changes, tort law continues to evolve, reflecting the values and challenges of the times.

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