Few people that haven’t gone to law school use the word “tort.” You may have never even heard of it. Although not a part of most people’s vocabulary, torts happen all around us every single day. Let’s learn what exactly torts are and how they work in our legal system.

What does “tort” mean?

A tort is a civil wrong or wrongful act that results in injury or harm to another person.

Torts are split into two main groups – intentional and unintentional. Intentional torts are things such as battery or assault where someone knowingly brings harm to another person. Unintentional torts, on the other hand, are caused by someone’s negligence. This could be a car wreck, defective product, or even medical malpractice. The majority of torts in our legal system are unintentional.

How is a tort case handled?

The process of a tort claim is different from the process of criminal charges. In criminal cases, the government prosecutes the case on behalf of society. In tort cases, an individual, business, or group of people file a lawsuit themselves to seek financial compensation for losses caused by the alleged wrongdoer. The group filing the lawsuit is known as the “plaintiff,” while the one being sued is called the “defendant.”

Most tort cases will settle outside of court. Only about 3% of tort cases ever go to trial. Many cases settle in a process called mediation, where both sides meet with a neutral third party to negotiate a deal and avoid going to trial. This may save both time and money for everyone. In that 3% of cases, however, a tort will go before a court to be decided by a judge or jury.

If a tort case makes it to trial, it is up to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that 1) the defendant was responsible for causing the damages, 2) that those damages happened because the defendant didn’t provide the standard of care of a reasonable person, and 3) that the defendant owed the plaintiff that standard of care.

While the term “preponderance of evidence” can sound confusing, it essentially means “more likely than not.” This is far different from a criminal trial, where the government must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

What do you win in a tort case?

When plaintiffs win their case, they are awarded damages. This can cover a wide range of things – lost wages, property damage, medical bills, and more. The goal of these damages is to restore plaintiffs to the position they would have been in if the defendant hadn’t committed the tort.

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While “tort” isn’t a commonly used word outside of the legal field, they happen every day. If you believe that you or someone you know has been the victim of a tort, make sure to contact a lawyer immediately so that you’re not taken advantage of by an insurance company.