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Date Modified: September 9, 2023

Tort and criminal law are two terms that people often confuse or overlap, which can cause problems when discussing a particular case with an attorney.

The thing about tort law and criminal law is that they’re both challenging to differentiate. Whether you need assistance with your case or simply want to learn a bit more about the law, the Ehline Law Firm is here. Below, we’ll address the most common concerns people may have.

  • Video Transcript -Is a Tort a Crime?

    Video Transcript -Is a Tort a Crime?

    "0:00 is a tort a crime? A tort is not a
    0:03 crime but a crime that can come from a
    0:08 tort in other words a battery is a tort
    0:10 but it’s also a crime and the
    0:13 definitions are slightly different but
    0:15 they basically both both are the same
    0:17 you were punched or you were hit or you
    0:19 were touched improperly and that caused
    0:22 damages or harm. [Music]"

Tort vs. Criminal Law: What You Must Know

Keep reading to learn more about the difference between criminal and tort law!

What Is Tort Law?

First, we’re going to cover both terms individually. According to civil law, a ‘tort’ involves a breach of a person’s civil rights. In other words, someone is committing a tort when they cause damage to any person or their property due to their negligence. Tort cases may involve compensation for the victim beyond property law or contract law.

It’s important to note that tort claims may vary depending on what happened, but all torts involve the same result: bodily harm or property damages.

Unintentional Torts

We first have unintentional torts (or negligent torts) for the two most common types of torts. As the name implies, the injured party (or their property) suffers an accident due to a faulty product, for example. In these cases, the injured party may seek help from their local legal system and sue the tortfeasor.

Intentional Torts

On the other hand, intentional torts occur when the guilty party is directly responsible for the damage. Overall, intentional torts are more confused with criminal cases than unintentional ones. This is because, in the legal world, an intentional tort often coincides with an injury sustained during criminal wrongdoing.

More About Strict Liability Torts?

Some cases involving strict liability torts include medical malpractice or car accidents where someone committed assault. But these boundaries are defined by basic principles of common law. Although the legal jargon may sound similar, crimes are different legal terms.

What Is Criminal Law?

Generally, a ‘crime’ is an illegal act, not a civil personal injury. Crime affects society, and these cases are often solved through the state or federal government with a criminal court. According to personal injury law, the person who experienced the injury is classified as ‘the society.’

Overall, criminal law involves a wider scale of damage than tort law. However, both terms involve wrongful conduct, which is why some people have a hard time figuring out the differences. When someone unintentionally injures one party (the plaintiff), individual parties, called defendants, can be held liable civilly and prosecuted criminally.

The following section will discuss the difference between torts and crimes, precisely punishments.

What Is the Difference Between Torts and Crimes?

As mentioned before, a civil offense (or civil wrongs) may sometimes be difficult to distinguish. We at Ehline Law Firm can help you understand your legal guidelines, federal statutes, and other things regarding your state legal system. However, we’ll provide an overview of the three main differences between these existing laws governing persons or property.

First, tort cases involve general or punitive damages caused to an individual or private person. On the other hand, criminal cases involve any wrongful act that affects communities or the local social order. As mentioned before, criminal law covers a bit more people.

The second main difference involves the intent of the damage. A tort case, for example, may often involve an intentional act. However, a tort occurs unintentionally in some other cases too. Considering negligence can greatly affect a person’s health or a person’s property, these cases are resolved in a civil court.

On the other hand, criminal activity always involves a deliberate act that affects society, such as burglary, battery, assault, or murder. In these cases, these illegal acts are resolved in a criminal court. Judges punish the actual wrongdoer with fines or incarceration.

Finally, the third main difference relies on the case’s societal effect. In both cases, the act’s effect will always be negative. However, as mentioned before, torts mostly affect the individual involved only and redress, whereas crimes go on a bigger scale, with a greater burden of proof. A conviction will often lead to an injunction, jail, and restitution as a penalty.

In particular cases, crimes and torts may coincide in the same criminal activity, where people get confused. For example, if someone was drunk driving and caused an accident that damaged someone else, there’s both a tort and a crime there. The tort would be the accident itself, whereas drunk driving would be the crime.

Unless the affected person decides to sue the guilty party for damages caused, these cases against wrongdoers are resolved through a criminal court; if not, the case is merely a tort.


To give you a more straightforward idea of what the differences between both terms are, make sure to check the following list:


  • An act that injures another person or by damaging their property
  • Civil court proceeding
  • The victim is the one who presses charges.
  • The defendant (or guilty party) is responsible for paying the victim’s damages if they lose the case.


  • An act that affects society or that the federal government identifies as a crime
  • Criminal proceeding
  • The government is the entity responsible for pressing charges against responsible individuals.
  • The defendant must serve a sentence if they lose the case
  • In some cases, the defendant may pay a fine to the government to reduce the sentence.

Need Help with Your Case? Talk to one of the Experts at the Ehline Law Firm!

If you or someone you loved got hurt during an outrageous accident, it might be overwhelming to deal with all of the legal proceedings yourself. Even law-abiding citizens are involved in one of these cases at some point during their lives and need the right help.

In the case of a tort, the victim may seek monetary compensation for any of the following items:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills
  • Therapy
  • Property damage.

Whether the person has experienced workplace accidents, a case with defective products, or a car accident, hiring a lawyer can help them go through the case much more efficiently and get compensatory damages promptly. The lawyers at Ehline Law are committed to helping you understand everything about your case and all the options available to you at the moment. If you’re interested in talking to one of these legal experts, you may fill out Ehline Law Firm’s contact forms. We hope this article has helped you understand the difference between torts and crimes!

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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Michael Ehline

Top Injury lawyer, Michael Ehline, Esq.
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