In the law, the word “tort” means a civil wrong. Latin play less of a role in the law as in previous eras. But, the word tort comes from “tortum” or “tortus” meaning injury.
Personal injury law in its purest form is taught as “Torts” in law schools. The most common torts involve negligence. Negligence cases invoke civil wrongdoing, as opposed to criminal conduct, and are separated from breach of contract cases. Where negligence is established, courts of law will provide a remedy in the form of damages.
What is a “Tort”?
Negligence law is distinguished from crime or breach of contract. Negligence is also usually separated from property rights and cases in which injunctions or other “equitable remedies” are sought. Such cases fall under the realm of premises liability. In most negligence cases, an injured person, called the plaintiff files a civil action seeking money damages.
Major areas of negligence law include: motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall accidents, dog bites, medical malpractice, products liability, wrongful death, aviation accidents and accidents involving generally anything that moves. One of my first cases out of law school was a boating accident.
Negligence is distinguished from intentional civil conduct. This category includes assault, battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Those are wrongs against the person. Wrongs against tangible property include conversion and “trespass to chattels”.
Torts: Civil Wrongs, Not Crimes
Other cases under the negligence umbrella include civil rights violations either under state laws or the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and other harms against a person such as invasion of privacy, unreasonable publicity given to private life and publicity placing person in false light. More esoteric but sometimes “big ticket” cases involve claims of unfair competition or trademark and copyright infringement.
What distinguishes negligence cases from other legal matters is that negligence seeks money damages. No one goes to jail as a result of a negligence claim tried in civil court, as happens in a criminal case. No one is ordered to do or to stop doing anything, as happens in equitable cases.
Negligence is a civil remedy for a civil wrong.