What Is Tort Law?

What Is Tort Law?

Tort law pertains to civil lawsuits, except for cases related to contractual disagreements. Tort law is a type of restorative justice that aims to provide financial compensation to make up for losses or harm caused. In tort law, there are three primary categories of cases: those that claim negligence, those that allege intentional harm, and those that argue strict liability.


Regarding legal matters, civil lawsuits are mainly regulated by tort law. However, contract law covers contractual disputes. Tort law operates with the purpose of rectifying wrongdoing committed against individuals and offering restitution for the actions of others. This is typically achieved by granting monetary damages as compensation, aiming to redress any proven harm suffered fully.

When it comes to contract lawsuits, these are exclusively governed by contract law. Under the principles of tort law, those deemed responsible for causing harm to others are obligated to compensate the victims. Such compensation covers various aspects, including reimbursement for loss of past or future income, payment for medical expenses, and providing restitution for pain and suffering endured. Additionally, in certain cases, punitive damages may be awarded, exceeding the value of full compensation, in order to penalize the plaintiff.

Decoding Tort Law: Unraveling Three Key Categories

Within the domain of tort law, there exist three distinct categories: negligent torts, intentional torts, and strict liability torts.

  • Negligent torts encompass harm inflicted upon individuals due to the failure of another to exercise a reasonable standard of care, often resulting in accidental incidents.
  • Intentional torts, on the other hand, pertain to harms caused by deliberate misconduct, including offenses such as assault, fraud, and theft.
  • In stark contrast to negligence and intentional torts, strict liability torts do not concern themselves with the culpability of the wrongdoer. Instead, they center around the nature of the act itself. When an individual or entity engages in a specific action, such as producing a faulty product, they assume full responsibility for any resulting damage, irrespective of their level of care or intent.

Illustrative Tort Law Cases

Case 1: The Self-Driving Car Collision

In February 2016, an unprecedented incident occurred in Mountain View, Calif., when a self-driving car manufactured by Google collided with a public transit bus. The car veered into another lane to avoid a group of sandbags placed around a storm drain, ultimately striking the side of the bus. This marked the first documented instance of a self-driving car causing an accident rather than merely being involved in one.

Liability tort law dictated that drivers could seek compensation from a car manufacturer for faulty car parts, commonly concerning airbags or tires. However, this liability scope now extended to self-driving cars, potentially holding Google and other emerging self-driving vehicle companies accountable for the damages incurred.

Case 2: The Negligence Lawsuit

Amy Williams pursued a negligence lawsuit against Quest Diagnostics and its subsidiary Athena Diagnostics following the tragic death of her two-year-old son, Christian Millare. In 2007, Athena Diagnostics misclassified a crucial gene mutation in Millare's medical profile. As a consequence, the child's doctors prescribed an incorrect treatment for his symptoms, ultimately leading to fatal seizures and his passing in 2008. In a significant ruling, the South Carolina Supreme Court, 11 years after the child's demise, recognized a genetic testing lab as a healthcare provider under state law, allowing the negligence lawsuit to proceed.

Case 3: The Intentional Tort Verdict

On March 18, 2016, a notable intentional tort case involved the clash between the website Gawker and professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. The court ordered Gawker to pay $140 million in damages, citing their intentional invasion of Hogan's privacy. Gawker was found to have deliberately obtained video evidence of a private act, leading to the ruling in favor of Hulk Hogan.

Tort Reform: A Critical Examination of Frivolous Lawsuits

Tort reform has emerged as a prominent issue, particularly in the United States, where a significant number of tort cases have come under scrutiny. Advocates of reform argue that a considerable portion of the approximately 11.7 million civil lawsuits filed in state trial courts in 2020 are frivolous in nature. These alleged frivolous cases are not only costly but also time-consuming, straining public resources that could be better allocated elsewhere.

Among the key areas of concern for tort reform advocates in the U.S. are lawsuits involving medical malpractice claims and accusations of billing overcharges. Such concerns encompass instances of unnecessary costly medical tests and the impact of patents on drug prices.


Tort law is a vital aspect of civil litigation, aiming to restore justice and compensate for the harm caused. With three distinct categories of cases, negligence, intentional damage, and strict liability, tort law encompasses a wide array of legal issues. The illustrative cases discussed shed light on the complexities and implications of tort law in real-world scenarios. Moreover, the need for tort reform has gained prominence, with concerns arising over frivolous lawsuits that burden the legal system and drain valuable resources. Addressing these challenges remains crucial to ensuring a fair and effective tort system that upholds justice and protects the rights of individuals and entities alike.

Tort Law
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