In the common law, a tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. The term comes from Law French and means, literally, 'a wrong'.

The "law of torts" is a body of civil law or private law that covers the various legal (money damages) and equitable remedies which the law provides for civil wrongs arising from extra-contractual liability, i.e., other than those wrongs which arise from a breach of contractual obligations. The (roughly) equivalent body of law in civil law legal systems is delict. The majority of legal claims (and the lawsuits that they are brought in) are torts.

In most countries, torts are typically divided into three broad categories: "Intentional torts", "Negligence" and "Nuisance". Additional categories or subcategories recognized in some countries include and strict liability torts.


Categories of torts

Intentional torts

In general terms, Intentional Torts are any intentional acts that are reasonably foreseeable to cause harm to an individual, and that do so. Intentional torts fall into several subcategories, including torts against the person, property torts, dignitary torts, and economic torts.

Torts against the person

The commonly recognized torts against the person include assault, battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Property torts

Property torts involve any intentional invasion of the property rights of another person. Those commonly recognized include trespass to land, trespass to chattels, and conversion.

Dignitary torts

Dignitary torts are torts that cause no tangible injury to a person or his property, but rather cause intangible harm to his reputation. These may include defamation, slander, libel, misappropriation of publicity, invasion of privacy, and disclosure. In the United States, the First Amendment places special limitations on the defamation of public figures with respect to issues of public importance. Abuse of process and malicious prosecution are often classified as dignitary torts as well.

Economic torts

Economic torts include common law fraud and tortious interference with contractual or business relationships.


Tort of Negligence is when harm occurs as a result of an individual, who is under a duty, fails to meet a standard of care imposed by that duty through an act or omission. In order to succeed in an action in negligence one must establish four things. Firstly, that a duty of care was in fact owed; secondly, that this duty was breached; thirdly, that the plaintiff suffered damages; and finally, that the damages occurred as a result of this breach.


Tort of Nuisance is any act that interferes with someone else's use and enjoyment of land.

Strict liability

Strict liability is applied in some countries to ultrahazardous activities, which present such grave dangers that parties engaged in those activities are held liable for injuries resulting therefrom even if they were not negligent. This theory is applied to injuries resulting from things such as the keeping of wild animals, use of explosives, or use of radiation.

Purpose of torts

In common law, many torts originated in the criminal law, and there is still some overlap between crime and tort. For example, in English law an assault is both a crime and a tort (a form of trespass to the person).

The difference that grew up between the two is that in tort it is the victim (or 'claimant' in English law) who will normally initiate any court action and who aims to have a wrong compensated (for example by the payment of damages) or prevented (for example by injunctive relief); whereas criminal actions are normally for punitive purposes and are initiated by a public body or their representative. Another distinction is that incarceration is available as a penalty for crimes, but not for torts.

Having said that, many jurisdictions retain a punitive element as a part of the law of tort via exemplary damages, and some torts may have a public element, for example public nuisance, with actions being maintained by a public body. While criminal law is primarily punitive, again many jurisdictions have evolved forms of compensation that may be ordered by criminal courts.

Tort by country

Each country has developed a varied view of torts through their jurisprudence. Though there is often a degree of cross-pollination, there often clear differences in requirements to prove an offense.

See also

he:דיני הנזיקין zh:侵权行为 nl:onrechtmatige daad


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