Understanding Tort Law and Your Rights and Responsibilities

The U.S. has a well-defined and strictly enforced tort law that punishes civil wrong stemming from breach of legal duty based on the proximate cause by a certain act or omission. Property owners, specifically, have a set of rights, duties, and liabilities that all fall under tort law.

In itself, a tort is a complex legal concept that covers intentional and unintentional cases such as negligence that causes harm or bodily injury that makes personal injury lawyers busy as bees. If you own a piece of land, a private residence, or a commercial establishment, you are duty-bound to know everything there is about tort so you can avoid a tort lawsuit or know what your rights are under it.

Here are the top things that you should know about tort law:

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  1. Negligence that causes tortuous harm is prevalent.

    Property owners who commit negligence make up a big bunch of tortfeasors (the party that committed the tort). Negligence is the most common type of tort case and is triggered by four elements: duty, breach, causation, and harm. With any of these four elements missing, a tort lawsuit could be easily thrown out the window. Case in point: a commercial property owner who failed to place a “Wet Floor” signage on a floor that has just been mopped, which then cause someone to slip and suffer injuries can be held liable for tort due to negligence. In such an example, all four elements were present, so the tort case is essentially a winnable one.

  2. Landlords and rental property owners/managers can be sued for injuries and damages caused to people and properties off-premises.

    While not as common as tort liabilities arising from injuries or damages occurring within a property’s premises, off-premise damages and injuries do happen often. An example would be a landlord’s failure to have a portion of the building’s wall repaired after visible signs were discovered, and then the wall collapsed which then led to injured passersby and damaged vehicles outside of the landlord’s property line.

  3. Intentional tort comes in many forms.

    An intentional tort is another type of tort case that comes in many forms. Intentional torts include battery, assault, fraud, trespassing into private land, false imprisonment, and defamation, among others. If the harm done to you is not included in these examples, a lawyer would help determine if the harm is a tort or a crime.

  4. There is a fine line separating tort and crime.

    While the act of intentionally causing harm to another person can be construed as a crime, there is a fine line dividing the two. A crime is when a wrongful action injured or interfered with an individual’s and society’s interests and is brought by a government (The State of _____ versus ______). Meanwhile, a tort is a wrongful act that specifically caused harm to an individual and is brought by the person harmed. However, there are wrongful acts that can be considered as both a crime and a tortuous act, such as an assault. In any case of uncertainty, whether an action that caused harm is a crime or a tort case, the person harmed or his/her relatives should consult an experienced lawyer for proper legal advice.

  5. ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’ versus ‘preponderance of the evidence’.

    In a tort (civil) case, the plaintiff (the person suing) must satisfy the standard of proof called preponderance of the evidence to make the defendant (the person being sued) liable. This standard of proof means that the evidence presented shows the defendant as more likely than not guilty of the accusation. Meanwhile, a criminal case requires a more stringent standard of proof called beyond reasonable doubt, which only means that the evidence from the government proves with certainty that the defendant is guilty of the charges against him or her.

  6. You can be slapped with a tort lawsuit based on strict liability if your dog attacks and harms someone.

    If you have a dog or any other animal as a pet and your pet attacked and harmed someone, you could be sued for strict liability. So, it’s important to secure your dog in a leash or cage if you frequently have visitors to your property. Meanwhile, if you’re on the receiving end of the attack, you may file for a tort case and cite this as the basis for your lawsuit.

By knowing these things, you can avoid potential tort cases and know your rights under tort law. Keep in mind that it’s important to know about these, whether you’re the one who caused the harm or you’re the victim of the harm done.

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