The word ‘tort’ implies conduct that is twisted or tortuous. It is a civil wrong(eg- defamation is a tort). A person committing tort is called a tort-feasor. The first reported use of the word is in the case of Boulton v. Hardy (1597). Under Indian law, it was first used in the case of Union of India v. Satpal Dharamveer (1969). A contract is independent from tort. It is an agreement which is enforceable by law. A quasi-contract, on the other hand, is an obligation created not by the parties mutually but by a court for the sake of justice. A crime comes under the subject of criminal law and is very different from tort.
Law of Tort
The principal aim of Law of Tort is the compensation of victims. Also, grant of exemplary damages in certain cases proves that deterrence of wrongdoers is also one of its aims. To constitute a tort, there must be a wrongful act. Such an act must cause legal damage to another person (plaintiff/injured party), and there must be a remedy available for the wrongful act. The remedy must be by way of civil action for damages (money compensation for loss/injury).
The Law of Tort has been adopted from the English Common Law.Its focus is on bringing the victim back to the position he was in, before the commission of the tort. Nowadays, tort cases are very rarely filed because most of the cases relating to tort (civil law) are now governed by certain legislation (eg- Contract Act, Specific Relief Act), under which damages and relief can be easily claimed.
The Supreme Court in Jai Laxmi Salt Works Pvt. Ltd v. the State of Gujarat (1994) quoted the definition given by Salmond that “A tort is a civil wrong for which remedy is common law action for unliquidated damages, and which is not exclusively the breach of contract or trust or other equitable obligation.”
Law of Contract: How is it different from Tort?
The laws relating to contracts are governed by the Indian Contract Act of 1872. It provides a codified law and is entirely different from the law of tort. The main difference is the remedy provided by the law.Damages payable, agreed upon by the parties are called liquidated damages. Under the law of contract, the remedy is only liquidated damages. Whereas under the law of tort, the damages awarded are contemptuous, exemplary, or unliquidated.
Another aspect is motive. While constituting a tort, the motive is taken into consideration but for breach of contract, it becomes irrelevant. Basically, a contract means a promise or set of promises that the law can or will enforce if any breach arises, while tort means a collection of legal remedies that allow the injured party to collect damages. Also, a tort is a violation of a right in rem (right vested in a person that is available against the world at large) and a breach of contract is a violation of a right in personam (right available only against some particular and determinate person).
Example- A father employs a surgeon to attend on his son. Subsequently, the son gets injured in the treatment due to negligence. Here, there is a contract between the father and surgeon, but none between the son and the surgeon. Therefore, the father may sue the surgeon for breach of contract, but the son can sue the surgeon only for tort. This explanation was given in the 1893 case of Gladwell v. Steggall.
A quasi-contract is a contract that is created by court’s order in absence of any agreement between the parties.There is no prior agreement,offer, and acceptance in a quasi-contract. It is enforced when any person enjoys the benefit of something but does not pay for it and the other person might have to bear the burden of it. Eg- A contracts with B to deliver goods to A’s residence.B accidentally delivers it to C who consumes these goods and refuses to pay.
The important difference between tort and quasi-contract is that damages to the quasi-contractual obligation are fixed and specified by the court itself whereas the damages in tort are not fixed and differs from case to case, depending upon the facts. In addition, remedy under a quasi-contract is available against a definite person but remedy for tort is available against all people generally.
A person committing a crime is called a criminal and is dealt with as per the provisions of criminal law.Example of a crime is theft, rape, murder, etc. It is always confused with the tort. Many people also use these terms interchangeably. In a larger perspective, crime is a wrong committed against the society as a whole whereas a tort only affects a particular individual. One essential ingredient is intention. No crime can be constituted without a guilty mind. However, a tort in most cases arises due to negligence. Hence, crimes are tried in a criminal court and a tort is dealt with in the civil courts.
Criminal jurisprudence is punitive in nature. Hence, the remedy for a crime is intended at punishing the wrongdoer. Contrarily, remedy for a tort arising out of negligence, aims at restoring the injured party to its original state and not to punish the wrongdoer. Since tort only affects an individual, the aggrieved party may only seek compensation. But a crime, impacting the society at large, is dealt with adequate punishment to the wrongdoer in order to maintain peace in the society.
The reason for a lot of confusion between the two terms is because they are not absolutely different and may overlap each other. For instance, nuisance and fraud, which are offences under the Indian Penal Code, can also be a tort. It can be explained with the help of an example. If Mr. X trespasses on the property of Y, with the intention to commit robbery, he shall be liable criminally. However, if X negligently enters the property of Y. He can be made liable under the law of tort.
The foundation of the law of torts is that in a civilized society, people must adhere to reasonable behavior and respect others’ rights. If it is violated, this law provides relief to the aggrieved party by way of compensation. Hence, the object and purpose of this law is fulfilled.
Unlike criminal law, it does not intend to punish the wrongdoer but only attempts to ensure equity and justice. It is also different from contracts, as these rights are available to any person against the world at large.