What is a tort and the three main categories?

What is a tort and the three main categories?

Simply put, a tort is a civil wrong that isn’t a breach of contract, for which courts can provide relief for damages caused. These are mostly state law and based on the concept that individuals are liable for their actions that results result in injury to others. From tort law, we see three predominant categories, negligence, intentional, and defamation.

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Negligence torts are exactly what they sound like but require a series of factors to establish that negligence occurred. First, that the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff, second, that this duty was breached due to lack of appropriate care, third that the negligent action is tied to the cause of the injury, and finally, that an injury occurred. Several factors come into consideration for these, such as the activity at hand, the circumstances that led to it, prior knowledge and the amount of reasonable supervision to be provided given the totality of the circumstances. An example of such comes from Brahatcek v. Millard School district, where an educator failed to follow proper school procedures and subsequently failed in his duty to inform and warn a student of proper technique and associated dangers. This student died when struck by a golf club and the teacher was found negligent (NRPA, 1985).


Intentional torts can be seen in assault and battery cases, false imprisonment, or intentional inflection of mental distress. For battery or assault cases to be successful, the plaintiff must show that the act was intentional, though an injury does not need to occur. Contrary to this notion, school staff has the authority to use reasonable force to control student behavior. False imprisonment cases don’t need to show that physical force or restraints were used, actions like maintaining one’s car keys can suffice. Additionally, no injuries beyond the restraint itself need be shown. Finally, for the intentional infliction of mental distress, it must be flagrant or extreme in nature and overall “utterly intolerable in civilized society” and nobody should be expected to endure this conduct, the text provides examples of stalking or harassment and that the behavior needs to be prolonged or recurring with single acts rarely meeting the necessary threshold. An example comes from Frame v. Comeaux, where a student was forcibly removed from a classroom and sustained minor bruising. Here the student was asked to leave several times and the case noted that the student “faced off” against the educator and that the applied force was reasonable and justified for maintaining good order and discipline in the classroom (3rd Circuit, 1999).


Defamation torts differ in the sustained injuries by damaging one’s reputations and are often filed against the individual responsible for the slander or libel. Considerations for defamation include if the targeted individual was private or public, if the communication was false, if the communication was opinion or fact, and if the comment was privileged. The information must be receivable and understood by others. Additionally, if the statement is predominantly true the judgment is typically towards the defendant. Finally, most opinions are protected by the constitution, here the communication must not be something necessarily proven as true or false and made in such a way that appeared as a personal perspective on the matter. An example can be seen in Reaves v. Foster, where an educator was the target of libel, claiming acts of prejudice but the case was eventually overturned due to the public interest of the material at hand (Justia, n.d.). Additionally, in protecting the privileged expression it was determined that the communications weren’t made with malice (Justia, n.d.). 


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