The legal mechanism for resolving personal injury disputes is referred to as “tort” law. Tort law has evolved over many centuries as the society's primary tool for protecting individuals and their property from injury or damage caused by another. In our legal system, a tort is a civil matter; meaning that the primary goal of the system is to compensate victims for their loss, as opposed to punishing the offender. Because of this, the remedy in tort actions is most often the payment of money damages from the defendant to the plaintiff.

In some cases where money damages would be insufficient to make the plaintiff whole, an injunction (a court order requiring a party to do something or cease doing something) might be issued. For example, if Paul’s neighbor Dave is dumping toxic waste onto Paul’s property, money damages would not correct the problem, so he might seek an injunction ordering Dave to stop the dumping.

Tort cases generally come in three different forms- intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability. An intentional tort is just what it sounds like- a situation where an offender intends to commit an act, commits the act, and causes some kind of harm. For instance, in the example above- if Dave intended to dump the toxic waste onto Paul’s property, then followed through with his intent and caused damage, he would have committed an intentional tort.

Negligence, the second type of tort, is a bit more complicated. In legal terms, negligence is the failure to use reasonable care under the circumstances. Say for instance, Dave never meant to dump toxic waste onto Paul’s property, but instead meant to drive the toxic waste to a landfill and dispose of it properly. However, on this trip he decided to let his 9 year old daughter do the driving, and she promptly slammed the truck into Paul’s house causing the toxic waste to spill everywhere. In this case, even though Dave had no intent to spill the waste, he nevertheless failed to use reasonable care in delivering it, and that failure caused the spill, so Dave was negligent.

The third type of tort is referred to as “strict liability”, which requires those who cause certain types of injuries to compensate the victim regardless of whether they meant to cause the injury or acted with reasonable care. The doctrine is most commonly applied to individuals or companies who partake in “inherently dangerous” activities. For this example, lets assume that Dave is no longer transporting toxic waste, but storing it on his property. Even if Dave has no intent to let the waste spill, and he takes all reasonable precautions to prevent a spill, if a spill happens anyway Dave will likely be liable for it. This is because storing toxic waste is an inherently dangerous activity, and the legal system wants to give him every incentive to take all the precautions reasonably possible.

Please feel free to review the subjects below for more detailed information on specific types of torts.