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 law” into:
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.