A Brief Explanation of Tort and Tort Reform

What happens when one person harms another?  What happens when one person does something that causes another to lose property, reputation, or quality of life?  Sometimes these harmful acts are not criminal as with assault or murder.  Yet, they can cause loss of property, serious injury, or death.  Most people are familiar with high profile cases such as the Ford Pinto’s exploding gasoline tank, Firestone’s shoddy tires, or doctors who accidentally amputate the wrong limb.  These actions may not be criminal, but they cause harm. Many times these actions are a form of neglect or reckless behavior.  This is why our civil justice system based on the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution exists.  There must be a fair means of settling disputes between individuals, corporations, and other entities.  Here is more:

  1. A tort is a harmful act by one person that hurts another.
  2. A person who has been harmed by the actions of another can file a lawsuit in court and try to collect damages from the one who caused the harm.
  3. Most tort lawsuits are for non-criminal activities that cause harm such as unintentional harm caused by neglect.
  4. A judge and sometimes a jury will hear the facts involving the harm and decide if the injured person should receive monetary compensation from the one who caused the harm.
  5. Judges and juries can award three types of damages.
    1. Economic damages: Loss or harm experienced by the victim that can be calculated in dollars.  This includes medical bills, lost wages, and payment for whatever was lost.
    2. Noneconomic damages: Loss or harm experienced by the victim that cannot be calculated in dollars.  This includes pain, suffering, loss of reputation, loss of companionship, and loss of quality of life.
    3. Punitive damages: When clear and convincing evidence proves that the one who caused the harm did so with the intent to cause harm, judges and juries on rare occasions will punish the perpetrator by requiring additional payment to the one they harmed.
  6. Tort reform is a change in our laws governing how civil justice should be handled when the actions of one person cause harm to another.
  7. Tort reform usually focuses on limiting how much attorneys can charge, how much an injured person can collect in damages, or which evidence will be allowed in a lawsuit.

More About Tort and Tort Reform

Tort:  Is a wrongful act, not including a breach of contract or trust, that results in injury to another’s person, property, reputation, or the like, and for which the injured party is entitled to compensation.  A tort is a civil wrong arising from an act or failure to act for which legal proceedings to prove personal injury or property damages may be brought. A tort is a wrong that is committed by someone who is legally obligated to provide a certain amount of carefulness in behavior to another that causes injury to that person. A tort is a breach of duty whereby someone acquires a right of action for damages.

Use in a sentence:  If you commit a tort, you are liable to pay a compensatory sum to the person you injure.

More About Tort: A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a civil wrong that causes someone else to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortuous act.

The person who commits the act is called a tortfeasor. Although crimes may be torts, the cause of legal action in civil torts is not necessarily the result of criminal action; the harm in civil torts may be due to negligence, which does not amount to criminal negligence. The victim of the harm can recover their loss as damages in a lawsuit. In order to prevail, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, commonly referred to as the injured party, must show that the actions or lack of action was the legally recognizable cause of the harm. The equivalent of tort in civil law jurisdictions is delict.

Legal injuries are not limited to physical injuries and may include emotional, economic, or reputational injuries as well as violations of privacy, property, or constitutional rights. Torts comprise such varied topics as automobile accidentsfalse imprisonmentdefamationproduct liabilitycopyright infringement, and environmental pollution (toxic torts). While many torts are the result of negligence, tort law also recognizes intentional torts, where a person has intentionally acted in a way that harms another, and in a few cases (particularly for product liability in the United States), strict liability, which allows recovery without the need to demonstrate negligence.

Tort law is different from criminal law in that: (1) torts may result from negligent as well as intentional or criminal actions and (2) tort lawsuits have a lower burden of proof such as preponderance of evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes a plaintiff may prevail in a tort case even if the person who allegedly caused harm was acquitted in an earlier criminal trial. For example, O. J. Simpson was acquitted in criminal court of murder, but later found liable for the tort of wrongful deathWikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tort

Tort Reform:  Tort reform is a change or alteration of laws imposing civil liability for torts, especially to limit liability for damages. Tort reform commonly refers to proposed changes in the civil justice system that aim to reduce the ability of victims to bring tort litigation or to reduce damages they can receive.

Used in a Sentence:  The tort reform law will affect the number of lawsuits filed.

Tort reform isn’t one single idea or law.  Instead, it is a group of ideas and laws designed to change the way our civil justice system works. Hundreds of laws to change our civil justice system have been filed in legislatures around the nation.  In Arkansas, scores of differing tort reform laws have been proposed over the years.  Some have passed and others have not.  Every tort reform law is different, but many do one or all of the following:

  • Make it more difficult for injured people to file a lawsuit.
  • Make it more difficult for injured people to obtain a jury trial.
  • Place limits on the amount of money injured people receive in a lawsuit.

Tort reform efforts restrict these activities to various degrees.  The degree to which these activities should be restricted is the subject of debate.