A tort, in common law jurisdiction, is a civil wrong that causes a claimant to suffer loss or harm, resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. It can include intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, financial losses, injuries, invasion of privacy, and many other things.
Tort law seeks to provide reimbursement to members of society who suffer losses because of the dangerous or unreasonable conduct of others. Torts may be either (1) intentional, (2) negligent, or (3) in strict liability. The word “tort” means “wrong”, and originally evolved from the writs of trespass and trespass on the case. While each act involved the actor, or tortfeasor, directly causing injury to a victim, one of the many drawbacks to the writ system was that it lacked any comprehensive underlying theoretical basis. In the 1800s, as the writ system was being replaced with the more modern forms of pleading, American law professors and judges began to develop a basic theory for tort law based on fault.
Tort law, in essence, establishes standards of conduct for all members of society. It defines as civil wrongs the following antisocial behaviors: (1) intentional interference with one’s person, reputation, or property (intentional torts), (2) the failure to exercise reasonable care (negligence), and (3) in some circumstances, liability without fault (strict liability). In a nutshell, tort law is a method by which an injured person can attempt to shift the costs of harm to another person. Because the plaintiffs in tort cases are usually seeking money damages, tort actions that are not settled prior to trial are generally tried to juries. Many courts believe, in fact, that the constitutional right to trial by jury is an inextricable part of tort law and that it is inappropriate, if not unconstitutional, to hamstring a jury in its determination of the amount of potential awards for a plaintiff.
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