Tort law is a type of civil suit brought in common law jurisdictions, including the United States as well as Great Britain and Canada. It covers circumstances where a person can be held liable in court for harming someone else, even though he or she didn’t necessarily commit a crime or some other explicitly illegal behaviour. Most torts are classified as intentional, negligence, or strict liability.
Negligence refers to a very broad number of possible situations in which harm was caused, but also tends to result in lower penalties. According to Perry Binder of Georgia State University, there are four components to negligence: the defendant must have had “a duty of care” to the plaintiff; second, they must have failed to uphold that duty; third, that failure resulted in some harm to the plaintiff, which was clearly caused by the negligence in question and not by other factors; and fourth, the harm in question must be of a form which is covered by the law and which can be rectified through an award for damages. A plaintiff must prove all of these aspects of the case in court in order to receive compensation.
There are many circumstances where accusations of negligence could be taken to court. In general, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, a negligence accusation may be made whenever someone has failed “to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Typically such allegations are made because of physical harm, or a loss of property, caused by another person’s or a business’s error or failure to behave responsibly.
The category of intentional tort is more specific, but can also lead to much larger penalties in court. In contrast to negligence, in the case of an intentional tort, a plaintiff must provide evidence in court that they were deliberately harmed by the defendant. What form these intentions might have taken depends upon the type of harm. For instance, the accused person might have had a general intent to commit the act without intending for anyone to be harmed by it, but he and she also might have had the specific intent to commit the act in order to inflict harm.
There are many different types of intentional torts, with the particular number and types differing according to legal jurisdiction. The Legal Information Institute states that the most common types of intentional torts in American law include assault and battery (which may also result in criminal charges), false imprisonment, trespassing on private property, and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The third important type of tort law is known as “strict liability.” Strict liability are standards set by the law according to which a person is considered responsible for harm they have caused, without requiring the plaintiff to prove whether the harm was caused by negligence or by intent. In general, laws specify strict liability for harmful activities which are considered so obvious or dangerous by any reasonable person that liability can be presumed without having to prove either intent or negligence.
Strict liability standards vary considerably between different jurisdictions. They often cover trademark and copyright infringement. For most Americans, perhaps the most important types of strict liability torts involve consumer protection and product liability laws. Strict liability standards thus exist to cover a manufacturer’s liability for defects in design and production of goods, and failure to warn consumers about hazards associated with using the product. In addition to product safety, strict liability governs “ultrahazardous” activities such as the use of explosives and the keeping of large and dangerous animals.