"Tort" Law and Lawyers

What is a tort?

By , J.D.

In the legal context, "tort" is just an older and stranger word for "personal injury." In this article we'll explain what a "tort" is, where to find laws that apply to tort cases, and a few things to consider when it comes to finding a lawyer to handle your tort case.

What Is a Tort?

A tort is a civil wrong that is inflicted on one person by another person, business, or entity. And since a tort is a "civil" wrong (as opposed to a wrong that rises to the level of a crime) the remedy for someone who has been harmed typically comes in the form of financial compensation. The basic tenets of tort law -- that a wrongdoer should be held liable for damages stemming from a civil wrong -- form the basis for everything from an injury-related insurance claim to a civil court jury trial after an accident.

Different Types of Tort Cases

Most tort cases arise when one person is somehow careless, and that carelessness injures or otherwise harms another person. The legal term for this is negligence. And negligence is the legal theory that forms the basis for most kinds of tort cases, such as those stemming from car accidents, medical malpractice, slip and fall accidents, and many other incidents in which one person accidentally injures another person.

But tort cases also include "intentional torts," which are injuries that arise from purposeful conduct. An act that amounts to an intentional tort can also be considered a crime under a state's criminal code, meaning that a single act can give rise to a civil lawsuit and a criminal prosecution. Examples of these kinds of acts are assault and battery.

Where Can Tort Laws Be Found?

Tort cases are governed more by court decisions than by codified laws. State laws do come into play in tort cases -- for example, every state has a statute of limitations that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after you've suffered an injury. But most tort cases are governed by a concept known as "common law," which basically means that the rules for these cases have evolved (and are still evolving) according to what courts have held in the distant (and not-so-distant) past.

If you have a tort case, chances are that the "law" that applies most closely to your case will be a multi-faceted patchwork of past rulings that have been handed down by courts in your state, especially rulings from the state's highest appeals court.

What Kind of Tort Lawyer Do You Need?

Just as there are many different kinds of torts, there are many different kinds of tort lawyers. While many attorneys specialize in "personal injury," you'll also find that many lawyers have (or at least claim to have) expertise in a specific kind of personal injury case.

That's an important factor when you're choosing a lawyer, because a medical malpractice case is very different from a defective product case, for example. Countless kinds of cases fall under the larger "personal injury" umbrella, but these varieties of cases can be very different in terms of the key issues that often crop up.

When an attorney has experience handling a specific kind of personal injury case, it means that he or she will anticipate and handle crucial legal and procedural challenges, and will often do so in a way that's more efficient and more effective than could an attorney who is in unfamiliar territory.

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