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Definitions of Tort


Law is generally divided into public and private laws. While public laws regulate the conduct of states, private laws aim at regulating the behavior of individuals. Sir Pit Cobbet said, “Private law is the body of rules for determining questions as to the selection of appropriate law, in civil cases which present themselves for decision before the courts of one state or country”. Thus, by going with Sir Cobbet’s definition, it is clear that private laws mainly focus on civil cases. There are a number of branches of private law that include contracts, family, property, commerce and trade, tort, etc. Law of tort is a civil law that provides compensation in case of damages that occur in the absence of any contract. It is designated as a private law as it focuses on the mutual relations of citizens.

Tort is a civil wrong and the person who commits it is called a tortfeasor, who is obliged to compensate for the damages caused by him/her. Damage, in this context, means a recoverable harm or infringement of a legal right of a person. Monetary compensation is the best remedy available, however at times, some other reliefs are also sought, for instance, injunction. In torts, an obligation or duty is imposed upon a person, irrespective of his/her intention or a contract in that respect, to undergo the consequences of his own wrong conduct. Tort law is different from breach of contracts and breach of trust. The law of torts is usually viewed as a soft law by virtue of the kinds of punishments it provides. There is no stringency in punishment like imprisoning the tortfeasor, and rather, the law majorly concentrates on compensating the victim. However, this does not mean that tort laws only deal with mild cases. It also covers kinds of bodily harm, trespass, defamation, manslaughter, etc. that also involves criminal liability.

The main aim of law of tort is to prevent damage causing incidents by making the person, so causing, to pay for it. This will induce people to be more careful in their acts, thereby avoiding such unnecessary damages. Torts may be intentional or unintentional. Intentional torts include assault, battery, trespass, etc. while unintentional wrongs occur when the person causing it has no mala fide intention to harm a particular person but his act or, as the case may be, omission, involuntarily harms a person’s right, for example, negligence. Hence in tort laws, the notion of duty, especially of a legal nature, plays an effective role. It is a punishment for not fulfilling the duty of taking the care and precaution, which is reasonable as per the circumstances.

Meaning and Definition of Tort

The word tort has been derived from the Latin term “tortum” which means twisted or crooked or unlawful. Thus, any conduct that is not straight and lawful is a tort. In English, tort means “wrong”, that is, it consists of wrongful acts committed by a person that violate the legal right of another person. The law of torts is a mixture of legal and moral obligations and involves economic application.

Some important definitions of Tort

1) John Salmond: “A tort 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.”

2) P. H. Winfield: “Tortious liability arises from the breach of a duty primarily fixed by the law.This duty is towards persons generally and its breach can be redressed by an action for unliquidated damages.”

3) 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.”

4) Kirsty Horsey & Erika Rackley: “A tort is a civil (as opposed to criminal) wrong for which the law provides a remedy.”

5) John Hodgson & John Lewthwaite: “Tort is a collection of wrongs, to be resolved between the parties involved, that is, civilly rather than criminally."

"The law of torts governs the question of whether the injured party, the claimant, may sue the party responsible for the injury, the defendant or the tortfeasor, to recover compensation for his loss, and if so, how.”

6) Amy Hackney Blackwell: “Tort is a private injury or wrong; a violation of a socially recognized duty owed to a plaintiff, that results in injury to the plaintiff; torts can be caused intentionally, through negligence, or under strict liability.”

7) Peter Birks: “Tort is 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.”

8) 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.”

9) Burdock: “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.”

10) Under Hill: “Tort will arise by the breach of duty and the remedy of tort is damages.”

11) Black’s Law Dictionary: “Tort is a private or civil wrong or injury, other than breach of contract, for which a remedy may be obtained, usually in the form of monetary damages.”

The law of "tort" is an uncodified law in India, and it has been very narrowly interpreted when compared with the US or England. The concept has not been specifically defined anywhere in the Indian Laws, except the Limitation Act of 1963. Section 2(m) of the Act defines “tort" as a civil wrong which is not exclusively a breach of contract or breach of trust.

The above definitions are only some parts covering the extensive scope of the law of torts. In general, there is no specific and accurate definition that would help us to understand torts in its entirety. Nevertheless, while going through all these definitions, it is clear that the law of torts cover a wide range of wrongful acts of civil nature, be it an act committed or omitted, for which the law prescribes a remedy in the form of unliquidated damages.

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