You may have heard the word “tort” thrown around as part of the language of law and lawyers. It’s kind of a funny word, but what does it mean?  It’s easier to describe it by what it is not. The term covers a variety of acts that give rise to “civil,” as opposed to criminal, liability.  Generally, civil liability means responsibility to pay money “damages”’ to an injured person. We discussed damages in a previous Badger blog post.

 A tort claim is different from a criminal prosecution. A crime is wrong prosecuted by the government. Tort claims are generally brought by private parties to recover for injuries to themselves, as opposed to offenses against the public in general. A tort can also be a crime. For example, homicide is a crime, but it is also a tort. But a tort is not something that has to rise to the level of criminal conduct.


Negligence is the most common type of tort. As we discussed in a previous Badger Blog post, negligence can be simple carelessness. That is not a crime, but the careless person may have to pay for injuries caused by the carelessness. Still, the word “tort” implies some sort of wrongdoing. The word comes from the English long ago, who borrowed it from the French. It literally means “twist” or “twisted,” suggesting something wrong and not right. So the law typically requires proof of at least negligence before it will impose liability on an alleged wrongdoer.


There are also “intentional” torts, like fraud, libel and slander. Those torts typically require proof that the alleged wrongdoer acted with at least reckless disregard of the rights of the injured party or that the wrongdoer actually intended to cause harm. If the conduct was really bad, like “extreme and outrageous” and far outside the bounds of acceptable behavior, the court may allow an award of “punitive” damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer, as opposed to compensate the inured party.


To add a bit to the confusion, there are actually some torts that don’t require proof of any “bad” conduct at all. For example, a product manufacturer who sells a defective product can be liable to pay damages for resulting injury even without any evidence that the manufacturer was negligent. This is called “strict liability.”

 In the typical personal injury case (auto accident, slip and fall, etc.), the injured person will have to prove at least negligence.

If you’ve been injured and need a lawyer who will fight for your rights, call Law Badgers at 1.833.383.4448 (833 DTF IGHT) or email us at info@lawbadgers.com. We’re here to help.

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