Tort Law: A Comprehensive Guide

Apr 5 - 11 min

In today’s complex legal landscape, tort law plays a crucial role in maintaining justice and accountability. Tort law is a foundational aspect of the legal system. They were crafted to address and remedy wrongs and damages suffered by individuals. At Senft Injury Advocates, we specialize in navigating these laws to protect your rights and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.  

What Is Tort Law? 

One can easily understand tort law by defining ‘tort’. A tort is an act, or lack thereof, that causes significant damage to a person or property. In short, tort law is the regulations and measures set in place to ensure: 

  • The damage person and/or property is properly compensated, 
  • the wrongful actor is adequately punished, and 
  • persons are discouraged from causing or enacting harm on another. 

What Is the Purpose of Tort Law? 

The primary purpose of tort law is to provide relief to injured parties for harm caused by others. Additionally, they impose liability on parties responsible for the harm, and to deter others from committing harmful acts. It is built on the concept that individuals should be responsible for the consequences of their actions. Moreover, victims should be compensated for losses resulting from someone else’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing.  

Types of Tort Law 

Tort law falls under three categories: intentional, negligence and strict liability. The chart below gives a breakdown of each category with examples and federal cases.  

Tort Type Definition Examples Federal Case 
Intentional Intentional torts occur when a person deliberately engages in actions that cause injury or damage to another. This category requires that the perpetrator had intent to perform the act that led to the harm. • Assault
• Battery
• Conversion
• Defamation
• False imprisonment
• Intentional infliction of emotional distress 
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan 
Negligence Negligence happens when a person fails to take reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. It does not involve intentional harm but rather a failure to act as a prudent person would under similar circumstances. • Slip and fall accidents
• Motor vehicle accidents
• Pedestrian accidents
• Medical malpractice 
Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants 
Strict Liability Strict liability involves responsibility for damages whether or not there was negligence or intent. In these cases, the act itself is inherently dangerous, and the person undertaking the action is liable for any resulting damages, regardless of the level of care taken. • Manufacture defects
• Animal attacks
• Abnormally dangerous activities 
Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company, 1981 
Data Source: U.S. Chamber or Commerce Institute of Legal Reform.

The Role of Insurance in Tort Laws 

Insurance plays a pivotal role in tort law, particularly in cases involving auto accidents. Auto insurance is required by law in most states. In turn, providing financial protection against personal and property damage resulting from car accidents. Minimum insurance amounts vary by state; nonetheless, victims of negligence have a source of compensation for their injuries or losses.  

Full Tort vs Limited Tort vs No Fault Insurance Systems  

The type of auto insurance system adopted by a state—whether it’s full tort, limited tort, or no-fault—significantly influences how and when tort claims can be pursued after an auto accident. This distinction impacts the rights of individuals involved in auto accidents and their strategies for legal and financial recovery. Each system has its specific features and implications: 

Full Tort System 

In states with a full tort system, individuals have the right to sue at-fault drivers for all forms of damages, including non-economic losses such as pain and suffering. This arrangement is closely aligned with traditional tort principles and allows for comprehensive compensation. It reflects a commitment to ensuring that victims can fully address the impacts of their injuries. 

Limited Tort System 

Limited tort states offer lower insurance premiums in exchange for a restriction on the right to sue for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, unless the injuries surpass a ‘serious injury’ threshold which is defined by the state’s law.  For example, Florida’s serious injury threshold consists of conditions such as significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or death. These thresholds can vary depending on state laws. The limited tort system restricts the ability to claim for intangible losses, which means while upfront costs are lower, the scope of potential compensation after an accident is also reduced unless the injuries are deemed severe. 

No-Fault States 

In these jurisdictions, tort claims for personal injuries are generally restricted to severe cases. However, claims for property damage may still proceed under traditional fault-based principles. The choice between full or limited tort coverage directly affects an individual’s legal recourse following an accident, framing their options for recovery in the context of the state’s legal landscape. 

 

Tort Claims at Federal Level 

While personal injury cases typically fall under state jurisdiction, it’s important to note that some cases may have federal implications. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows individuals to file claims against the U.S. government for injuries or damages caused by the negligence of federal employees or agencies. For instance, if an injury occurs due to negligence at a federally operated facility or by a federal agency’s employee, the injured party may have grounds to file a claim under the FTCA. However, there are notable limitations and requirements. 

Lawsuits under the FTCA are exclusively handled in federal courts. The law does not permit punitive damages and plaintiffs are only eligible to receive the amount specified in their administrative claim unless they present new evidence justifying a higher amount​. For instance, if a person initially claims $50,000 in damages based on medical expenses and lost wages but later discovers additional long-term medical complications that weren’t initially apparent, they might be able to amend their claim to seek additional compensation if they can provide new evidence supporting the increase. 

How Can I File a Claim Against a Federal Agency? 

You may first file an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency that allegedly caused the harm. The Standard Form 95 is not mandatory for filing a claim; however, it is recommended as it provides a clear outline of the necessary information to properly notify the agency of your claim. This claim must be filed within two years of the incident. If the agency denies the claim or fails to respond within six months, you may then file a lawsuit in federal court​. A tort claim against a federal agency is officially recognized only when the agency receives the claim, not merely when it is sent. 

Senft Injury Advocates is Here to Help 

At Senft Injury Advocates, we understand the complexities and nuances of tort laws. Moreover, our goal is to advocate on your behalf, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you need to move forward. Understanding these laws is essential for anyone looking to navigate the legal system successfully. With Senft Injury Advocates by your side, you have a knowledgeable and compassionate partner in your journey toward justice and recovery.  

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Tort Law: A Comprehensive Guide