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What is a tort; what types are there?

The word tort sounds like a dessert, but is a legal term that means a private or civil wrong or injury.

It comes from the Latin torquere, meaning to twist.

Generally, a tort is a wrong that is not related to a contract. The main components include:

  • that a duty of care is owed in a situation
  • that the duty was breached (that not sufficient care was taken)
  • that damage resulted to someone as a direct result of that breach of duty of care

An example of a tort would be a personal injury action where somebody is injured by falling in a store.

In making such a claim, lawyers acting for the injured person need to establish that the owner of the store owed a duty of care to their client. As a customer in the store planning to buy something from the owner, the client can expect a certain level of safety.

If there are dangers such as a big hole in the floor, for example, where a reasonably careful person might think somebody could get hurt, then compensation may be available for a client hurt by falling into that hole.

The example is a personal tort, an injury to the person or the reputation or feelings of an individual. Defamation, libel and slander form a personal tort where something said or written is untrue and is proven to have damaged the reputation of the person being talked about.

Deliberate injury to a person such as assault or sexual assault is another form of personal tort. Often the wrongdoer will face consequences both by being charged criminally and also by being sued for the tort by the victim to get compensation for the injury.

There can also be property torts, where somebody has caused damage to your house, livestock or other possessions. An example of this would be where somebody deliberately, or by reason of not being careful enough, shot one of your animals or burned down one of your buildings.

Here, a lawsuit could help recover the cost of replacing the property you have lost by somebody else’s wrongful act.

Involved in many tort actions is negligence, which means the omission (failure) to do something a reasonable person would do or doing something that a reasonable person would not do.

So in the cases cited, where the harm caused was not deliberate but resulted from somebody not being careful enough, people looking for compensation will say in court documents that the person who hurt them was negligent.

Not surprisingly, the word tortious means wrongful, or in the nature of a tort. One of my personal favourites is tort-feasor for the wrongdoer who committed the tort.

We studied torts in first year law school, and a favourite term of en-dearment for a classmate was to call them a dirty tort-feasor. It has a certain ring to it.

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