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A Dictionary of Law Enforcement

Graham Gooch,

Michael Williams


[Old French: harm, wrong; from Latin tortus: twisted or crooked]

A wrongful act or omission for which damages can be obtained in a civil court by the person wronged, other than a wrong that is only a breach of contract. The law of tort is mainly concerned with providing compensation for personal injury and property damage caused by negligence. It also protects other interests, however, such as reputation (see defamation), personal freedom (see assault; false imprisonment), title to property (see conversion; trespass), enjoyment of property (see nuisance), and commercial interests (see intimidation; conspiracy; passing off). It must usually be shown that the wrong was done intentionally or negligently, but there are some torts of strict liability. Most torts are actionable only if they have caused damage, but torts whose main function is to protect rights rather than to compensate for damage (such as trespass) are actionable without proof of damage. The person principally liable is the one who committed the tort (the tortfeasor) but under the rules of vicarious liability one may be liable for a tort committed by another person. The main remedy for a tort is an action for damages, but in some cases an injunction can be obtained to prevent repetition of the injury. Other remedies are self‐help and orders for specific restitution of property.

Some torts are also breaches of contract. Negligent driving by a taxi‐driver that causes injury to his passenger is both the tort of negligence and breach of the contract to carry the passenger safely to his destination. The passenger may sue either in tort or for breach of contract, or both. Many torts are also crimes. Assault is both a crime and a tort. Dangerous driving is a crime and may give rise to an action in tort if it causes injury to another person. The crime is prosecuted by agents of the state in the name of the Crown. It is left to the injured person to seek compensation from the wrongdoer by means of an action in tort.