What is tort liability negligence? Put simply, negligent torts involve an unintentional lack of action, from which personal injury or damage can occur. The guilty party may be proven in court to have acted unreasonably or without concern for the safety and well-being of the other party. The guilty party is thus subject to liability.

Tort Definition and Law

First of all, what is a tort? A tort is an action or omission that results in injury or harm to another party and can be considered civil wrongdoing, which means it is subject to liability by the courts of law. In this legal context, the term "injury" refers to the breach of any lawful right, and "harm" refers to an actual loss or detriment suffered by an individual.

The purpose of tort law is to provide compensation to injured parties, to impose liability on guilty parties, and to discourage others from acting in harmful or negligent ways. The injured party may find relief once the consequences of loss have been shifted to the responsible party (who is at fault for the consequences of their actions) or another party more equipped to deal with the loss. Usually, a party taking legal action against the defendant will seek damages in the form of monetary compensation. Other requests may be for injunction or restitution.

Tort law is defined by common law and state statutory law. In determining the legal parameters of tort law based on the language of statutes, judges have a wide say in deciding which actions may be recognized as legal wrongs, which defenses may counteract any given claim, and the correct measure and amount of damages.

Elements of Tort Liability Negligence

The most common kind of tort is negligent tort. These are not purposeful actions but exist when a party fails to act in a reasonable way (that is, as a reasonable person would act), or acts in a way that a reasonable person would not, which affects another party to which they owe a duty. For example, a medicinal clinic owes a duty to their patients to provide a safe and comfortable facility in which to receive services. If the clinic does not remove ice on their front steps, and a patient slips and injures herself, it may be shown they have acted with negligence.

In order to legally demonstrate a tort negligence case, the following elements must exist:

  • The party must owe a duty or service to the injured party in question.
  • The party who owes a duty or service must breach the obligation or agreement.
  • An injury must exist as a result of that particular breach.
  • The injury cause must have been reasonably expected due to the responsible party's negligence.

The first element involves a presumed duty. This concept originated in the Donoghue case. The House of Lords determined that each individual owes a duty of care to their neighbor. "Neighbor" was then determined to mean "persons so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected." As it turns out, this very open-ended definition could very well include almost everyone. Later, Anns v Merton London Borough Council (1977) and Caparo Industries plc v Dickman (1990) reduced the parameters of this definition with the terms "proximity" and "fairness." Proximity refers to the notion that the parties must be "sufficiently close" enough that it's "reasonably foreseeable" that one party's negligent actions would result in loss or damage to another party. "Fairness" describes the notion that it must be "fair, just, and reasonable" for one party to owe a duty to the other party.

The second element involves the violation of the duty. While it is often clear that a duty exists between the two parties, the main concern is whether the actions of the defendant have fulfilled this duty. The court determines the standard actions that a "reasonable person" would have taken in that situation. If the defendant did not act reasonably, they have violated their duty. The standard may be flexible given the situation. For example, if the injured party is disabled, it's reasonable to expect the other party should have given them extra assistance compared to a fit and able party.

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