A personal injury and accident lawyer explains a common type of lawsuit
In the United States, the legal system that we “inherited”
from our European forefathers recognizes three broad categories or “types”
of law. In their most fundamental senses, our legal system divides “the
Criminal law, Administrative law,Civil lawcompensation
- Criminal law, which is concerned with preventing and/or punishing actions
that cause harm to individuals in our society or to the social order.
Violations of criminal law can be punished by subjecting the guilty party
to a period of confinement in a jail or a prison, or the payment of a
fine that is ordered by a court.
- Administrative law, which sets forth the rules and regulations that govern
the actions of government agencies. Violations of administrative law are
usually not considered to be criminal acts although such violations may
be punished by a fine or a court order to cease certain business practices.
- Civil law, which is concerned with the effects that the actions of one
individual, or a group, have on the well-being of other individuals or
groups. Much of civil law is devoted to the law of tort, which addresses
the right of an injured party to receive compensation from the party that
was responsible for that injury. Unlike criminal law, civil law cases
do not place a guilty party at risk of imprisonment.
As you might imagine, there can be some degree of overlap involving these
three types of law. In this post, our accident attorney will examine the
part civil law known as the law of
intentional tort by beginning with the definition of “tort.”
“Tort” is derived from the Latin verb meaning “to bend”
or “to twist.” In law, a tort refers to any act that leads
to an injury to another person. A tort may be either
accidental in that they are a result of a non-intentional act or are due to a simple
oversight, or a tort may be
intentional if the tort is the result of a deliberate act or decision. Most states
consider a tort that occurs during the commission of any act that is a
crime under that state’s law to be an intentional tort.
In any case where a tort is not the result of a criminal act, for an act
to be considered an intentional tort a
plaintiff (the person who files a lawsuit) must be able to demonstrate that the
act was deliberate and that the
defendant (the person being sued) knew, or should have known, that the act would
have consequences such as an injury or a monetary loss. Under American
civil law, it is only necessary to show that the defendant deliberately
chose to commit the act in question for that act to be considered an intentional tort.
Tort and Damages
As mentioned earlier, the common law holds that any person who is injured
or suffers some loss due to actions of another has the legal right to
be compensated (receive payment) for their injury or loss. The process
by which an injured party collects such compensation is known as recovering
damages. However, for the injured party to recover damages that party
must be able to demonstrate to a judge and/or jury that the following
“rules” or “points” of law have been met:
- The defendant owed a duty or responsibility to act in a certain way in
his or her dealings with the plaintiff.
At its most basic level, this means that each of us must conduct our business
affairs and social lives in a manner that will not cause harm or some
injury to others. If we do not, and someone is injured by our action or
inaction, we run the risk of being found liable (responsible) for any
injuries that may occur.
- The defendant failed, either deliberately or inadvertently, to perform
that duty. This failure is usually called a breach of a duty owed to another.
This point is a simple extension of the statement given above.
- As a direct result or as an unavoidable consequence of the defendant’s
failure to meet his or her duty to the plaintiff, the plaintiff suffered
some injury or loss.
Sometimes called the fundamental principle of tort, this simply means that
if “B” suffers an injury and if that injury is the direct
result of something that was under the direct control of “A”
then “A” is legally responsible for paying damages to “B.”
- The damages claimed by the plaintiff must be proportional to the harm caused
by the defendant’s actions. In other words, the plaintiff may not
seek unjust enrichment at the expense of the defendant.
The purpose of damages in tort law is to restore the injured party to their
condition prior to the injury that was caused by the action of the liable
party. Over the years, this has been interpreted to mean that damages
must be consistent with the loss experienced. Although punitive damages
may be awarded in tort cases, such damages are awarded at the discretion
of the jury or the judge that has heard the evidence in the case.
Now that we have been introduced to the basics of tort law, in our next
post we will review some specific examples how these basic principles
are applied in actual cases.