Tort Law Note - Definition Characteristics Differences

Introduction and Meaning of Tort

A tort is not a crime. It is a civil wrong.

What is the origin and meaning of the word Tort?
The word tort is derived from the Latin word tortum which means to twist. It, therefore, includes those acts which are not straight or lawful but are crooked or twisted. In English, it means wrong.

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Law of tort has its origin in the common law of England. This branch of law consists of various ‘torts’ or wrongful acts whereby the wrongdoer violates some legal right vested in another person.

What is Tort?
The term ‘tort’ means wrongdoing by one person causing injury to another, thereby the injured institutes or files for a remedy in a civil court. In simple words, it is an act of injury or damage to a person or property that is covered by the law, so that the person can start a court action is a tort.

How Tort can take place?
A tort can take place in either of the two forms: by a commission of an act or omission of an act.

What are the remedies for Tort?
Remedies for tortious acts include money damages or compensation or injunction depending upon the case.

Definition of Tort in Law

According to Section 2(m) of the Limitation Act, 1963, Tort means a civil wrong that is not exclusively a breach of contract or breach of trust.

Here’s how some famous legal personalities have defined Tort:

  • John Salmond: “It is a civil wrong for which the remedy is a common law action for unliquidated damages and which is not exclusively the breach of a contract or the breach of a trust or other merely equitable obligation.”
  • Winfield: “Tortious Liability arises from the breach of a duty primarily fixed by the law. This duty is towards persons generally, and its breach is redressable by an action for unliquidated damages.”
  • Fraser: “It is an infringement of a right in rem of a private individual giving a right of compensation at the suit of the injured party.”
  • Burdick: “An act or omission which unlawfully violates a person’s right created by law and for which the appropriate remedy is a common law action for damages by the injured person.”
  • Keeton: “Tort law is a body of law concerned with granting or denying claims of individuals or impersonal legal entities against each other for the award of damages or other forms of legal reliefs.”
  • Peter Brick: “The breach of a legal duty which affects the interests of an individual to a degree which the law regards as sufficient to allow that individual to complain on his or her own account rather than as a representative of society as a whole.”

Characteristics of Tort

1. Tort is a civil wrong.

There are two kinds of wrong – civil wrong and criminal wrong. Tort falls under civil wrongs.

There is a difference between civil wrongs and criminal wrongs. In civil wrongs, the injured party or the plaintiff files civil proceedings against the person causing injury or the defendant. The matter in a civil wrong is to be sued by a person himself, and the remedy for the same is unliquidated damages.

Whereas, this is not in the case of criminal wrongs. In criminal wrongs, the sufferer or a victim of a crime is not compensated; rather the justice is granted by punishing the wrongdoer.

2. Tort is an infringement of a right in rem.

There are two types of rightsright in rem and right in persona. Right in rem is the right which is available to the whole world and right in persona is a right available against any particular person. A tort is a violation of a right in rem.

3. Tort is a private wrong.

Tort is private wrong because it breaks the legal rights of an individual or specific group of individuals.

4. Remedy for tort is unliquidated damages.

The remedy for tort is equitable relief to the injured or unliquidated damages that are calculated by the court in accordance with the loss caused.

5. Law of tort is uncodified.

A tort is an uncodified law. Uncodified law is a law that does not have any written statutes or acts, and it has to rely on precedents and case laws. They are originated from sources such as court decisions, customs, and principles of jurisprudence. The law of tort is based upon precedent and developed through different case laws.

Differences Between Tort and Crime

Less serious wrongs are considered as private wrongs and have been labelled as civil wrongs, whereas wrongs that are more serious in nature have been considered to be public wrong and are known as crimes.

In tort, a suit is filed by the injured person himself whereas, in crime, the case is brought by the state on behalf of the victim.

A person who commits a tort is known as a tortfeasor whereas a person who commits a crime is known as a criminal.

If at any stage the injured party likes, he can compromise with the tortfeasor and withdraw the suit filed by him. On the other hand, in crimes, settlement or compromise between the wrongdoer and the aggrieved party is possible only in exceptional cases.

In the case of tort, the wrongdoer pays compensation to the injured party and on the other hand, in the case of crimes the wrongdoer is punished as per section 53 of the IPC, which provides types of punishments in crime.

Differences Between Tort and Breach of Contract

A breach of contract occurs from the breach of a duty undertaken by the parties themselves. Whereas, a tort is the result of the breach of duties that are not undertaken by the parties but which are imposed by law.

Damages are the basic remedy for both breach of contract and tort. Damage that is awarded in breach of contract is liquidated whereas, in tort unliquidated damages are awarded.

In a contract, each party owes its duty only to the contracting party. On the other hand, under the law of tort, duties imposed by law are not towards a specific individual or a specific group of an individual, but they are towards the world at large. However, only that person is entitled to sue who suffers damage by the breach of the duty under the tort.

Read Next:
1. What Are the General Defences Under the Law of Torts
2. What Is Nuisance in Law of Torts in India?

Subhashini Parihar
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