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What Is Tort Law? - Definition and Examples

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  • 0:05 Tort Law: Three Types of Torts
  • 1:41 Intentional Torts
  • 4:34 Negligence Torts
  • 6:11 Strict Liability Torts
  • 7:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

A tort is simply a civil wrong. There are three general types of torts that may cause injury to another person. In civil law, torts are grounds for lawsuits to compensate a grieving party for any damages or injuries suffered.

Tort Law: Three Types of Torts

Torts are wrongdoings that are done by one party against another. As a result of the wrongdoing, the injured person may take civil action against the other party. To simplify this, let's say while walking down the aisle of a grocery store, you slip on a banana that had fallen from a shelf. You become the plaintiff, or injured party, and the grocery store is considered the tortfeasor or defendant, the negligent party.

Simply said, you would probably take civil action against the grocery store to recoup compensation for pain, suffering, medical bills and expenses incurred as a result of the fall. Negligence is just one tort category. There are three general categories of torts. Regardless of the tort action, three elements must be present:

  • Tortfeasor, or defendant, had a duty to act or behave in a certain way.
  • Plaintiff must prove that the behavior demonstrated by the tortfeasor did not conform to the duty owed to the plaintiff.
  • The plaintiff suffered an injury or loss as a result.

Because torts are a civil action involving private parties, punishment does not include a fine or incarceration. The punishment for tortious acts usually involves restoring the injured party monetarily. Sometimes a court order may force the tortfeasor to either do or not do something. Think trespassing, defamation or slander. Let's explore the three types of torts:

  • Intentional torts
  • Negligence torts
  • Strict liability torts

Intentional Torts

An intentional tort is an act that is intentionally committed against another person with the aim of causing harm. There are several intentional torts that fall into this category, like assault, battery, conversion, fraud, false imprisonment, trespassing and invasion of privacy. Not every injury-producing action is cause for an intentional tort lawsuit. The court will look at the conduct of the defendant to determine whether the actions were, in fact, intentional or just mere willful and wanton behavior not specifically meant to cause fear or injury, but is considered reckless.

Betty Geeslin, a personal representative of Bill Geeslin in Bill Geeslin v. Kobe Bryant, is one of those cases. Back in November of 2005, Geeslin and a friend attended a Lakers/Grizzlies game. The fans held courtside seats for the event. At some point during the game, famous basketball player Bryant ran to retrieve an out-of-bounds ball. As he reached for the ball, he lost his footing and fell atop Geeslin, leaving him with injury to his chest and lungs. After several days, Geeslin, now home, began experiencing uncomfortable pain in his chest severe enough to visit an emergency room. Once examined, it was diagnosed that he suffered a bruising and a crushed lung. He was prescribed several pain medications and a breathing machine and sent home.

After a few weeks of home treatment, Geeslin decided to sue Bryant for assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress. Geeslin claimed that when Kobe attempted to remove himself from Geeslin's chest, he used extreme force to push away, causing injury. Geeslin also claimed that he could no longer sleep at night, suffered anxiety and felt embarrassed by the incident in general.

When the court analyzed the case, it felt that the elements for tortious behavior were not present. Specifically, Geeslin assumed the risk of injury by choosing courtside seats. Bryant in no way intended to cause injury to Geeslin at the time of the initial fall or as he attempted to return to the court, and a reasonable person would not conclude that the incident was so seriously traumatic that Geeslin suffered emotional distress to the degree he claimed. In a motion for defendant's summary judgment, the court ruled in favor of Bryant.

On a side note, Geeslin died prior to final judgment and a personal representative maintained the claim against Bryant until time of final judgment. However, Bryant settled with the estate out of court for the sum of $75,000 to put a rest to any further appeals or complaints against him. Our next torts deal with actions that cause injury that do not have intentional characteristics.

Negligence Torts

Negligence occurs when a party fails to demonstrate the kind of care a prudent person would take in the same situation and an injury results from the action or inaction. There are five elements necessary to prove a negligence case:

  • Defendant owed a duty of reasonable care.
  • Defendant did not behave in a reasonable manner to demonstrate care.
  • Plaintiff suffered an injury as a result of the defendant's actions or inactions.
  • The injury caused actual damages.
  • Proximate cause: defendant's actions or inactions were the cause of injury.

While these elements seem repetitive, they are necessary for a negligence case. Let's see what happens in a comical case involving negligence.

In Byrne v. Boadle (1863), Byrne was walking down the street when a barrel full of flour fell out of a window and landed upon him, causing the plaintiff injury. In this case, the flour shop owed anyone walking on the sidewalk below the window a duty of care. In other words, a flour barrel should not be in a window where it could fall. The defendant should have used reasonable care that the flour barrels are stored in an area of the shop where injury to a passer-by could not possibly happen. Byrne was injured because of the flour shop's negligence in storing flour barrels appropriately, leaving the flour shop solely responsible for this injury. Needless to say, this was a prima facie case because the evidence was strong enough on face value to convince a court to rule in favor of the plaintiff.

Strict Liability Torts

Cases involving strict liability are similar to negligence. In these instances, the defendant may be responsible for damages even if the defendant was not negligent. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. Let's take the dog bite law as an example.

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