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The History of Tort Law and What Is the Tort Litigation System?


Video Transcript

“0:00 What is the tort litigation system? The

0:03 tort litigation system is a system of

0:06 legal framework which allows people who

0:09 are wronged by a wrongdoer who usually

0:12 violated their social contract to behave

0:14 in a reasonable manner to allow the

0:16 person who is wronged the ability to

0:20 file a lawsuit in a courthouse to serve

0:24 the defendant with the summons to go

0:26 through a legal process of discovery and

0:29 litigation in order to determine whether

0:32 or not the person was actually wrong by

0:34 the negligence of the wrongdoer. And if

0:36 so, the tort litigation system will issue

0:40 a judgment or verdict against the

0:42 defendant usually commanding him to do

0:46 or not do something that he should have

0:47 done which would be injunctive relief or

0:50 commanding him to pay money damages in

0:52 order to try and make the person wronged

0:55 whole again through a damages award.”

There are two justice systems in the United States: the civil justice system and the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system uses criminal law to punish the defendants, while the civil legal system uses tort law to provide a remedy to the plaintiffs for their injuries or harm. Let’s explore the tort litigation system with Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys.

History of Tort Law

The reflection upon tort law dates way back to the time of Aristotle and made its way into medieval discussions. Aristotle, in his writings, made a distinction between the roles of the court in providing the public with a remedy for private disputes from the role of government officials.

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It wasn’t until the 20th century when philosophical writing of torts developed, and jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr was a pioneer in making the study of law more approachable since civil law jurisdictions drew on the excessive formalism of legal scholarship and education writing.

Holmes worked with an English legal scholar, Sir Frederick Pollock, and set a pair of questions for tort theory that played a crucial role in modern tort law.

What Is Tort Law?

Tort law covers legal proceedings in the civil court besides contractual disputes, which fall under contract law. The primary aim of tort law is to “fix” harm or injury to a person by the defendant and provide them with relief, in most cases, in the form of monetary compensation.

Tort law recognizes any damages or harm caused by the actions of an individual for which the law provides a remedy. These damages include lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. However, in some cases, the court may also award in excess of the compensation, and these are punitive damages aimed at punishing the defendant.

Understanding Tort Law

There are three categories the tort law is divided into, and these are:

  • Negligent torts: A negligent tort is a wrongful act arising from one’s failure to ensure reasonable care. The court uses the reasonable person standard to determine whether the defendant is at fault. The following are typical examples of negligence torts: slip and fall accidents, car accidents, and medical malpractice.
  • Intentional torts: An intentional tort is a wrongful act carried out intentionally or, in other words, willful misconduct. The following are some of the common intentional torts: assault, battery, defamation, infliction of emotional distress, and trespass.
  • Strict liability torts: Unlike negligent and intentional torts that deal with the person causing harm, strict liability focuses on the act. If someone carries out an act, they will be liable for any injury regardless of their intentions or whether they exercised reasonable care.

What Is the Tort Litigation System?

The basis of personal injury cases is the tort system that helps injured parties hold people or entities responsible for the damages suffered from their actions. 

Most tort cases arise out of another’s negligence, and in such cases, it is essential to prove the elements of a negligence case, which are as follows:

  • The plaintiff must establish that the defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care.
  • The plaintiff must show that the defendant breached the duty to exercise reasonable care.
  • The plaintiff must prove causation, a link between the injuries caused and the breach of the legal duty.
  • The plaintiff must show that they suffered losses, injuries, or damages.

These elements vary slightly for intentional torts and strict liability torts.

Classic Examples of Tort Law

Let’s go over a few classic examples of tort law to help you understand the concept and tort liability under each category of tort law.

Negligence Tort Claim

In the case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co, the plaintiff was waiting at a railway station when the two men boarding the train before her, assisted by the railroad employees, dropped a fireworks package that exploded. The explosion caused a large coin-operated scale to fall onto the plaintiff, causing injuries that eventually caused her to stammer.

The plaintiff sued the railroad company for their employee’s negligence at the Kings County Supreme Court, leading to a jury verdict of $6,000. However, the defendant appealed the decision, but the appellate division ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the defendant appealed again.

Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo found the appellate division decision flawed and ruled in favor of the defendant, stating that the railroad employee assisting the man did not have a duty toward the plaintiff as the injury was not foreseeable harm.

Cardozo’s concept of tort liability arising from the breach of duty causing injuries to another person became widely accepted into American law.

Intentional Tort Claim

In the Garratt v. Dailey case, the defendant, a 5-year-old child, moved a chair on which the plaintiff was about to sit, causing her to fall and suffer injuries. The plaintiff brought a civil action against the defendant for battery in the Supreme Court of Washington.

The trial judge ruled in favor of the defendant, stating that the boy did not have the intent, but the plaintiff appealed the decision. According to the court, there could be battery if the defendant knew with substantial certainty that the plaintiff would sit on the chair. The absence of the intent to injure or to play a joke does not eliminate the liability for the defendant.

Under these descriptions, the court sent the issue back to the trial court to find whether the defendant knew with substantial certainty. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, stating that the defendant knew with substantial certainty that the plaintiff would sit on the chair, which was sufficient to show intent.

Strict Liability Claim

In the case of MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co, a plaintiff suffered injuries when one of the wheels of his 1909 Buick Runabout collapsed, causing the plaintiff to sue Buick. The defendant argued that they did not manufacture the wheel but only installed it.

The court found that the inspection could’ve revealed the defective wheel and prevented the accident from happening. The defendant denied responsibility, stating that the plaintiff purchased the vehicle from the car dealer, not the manufacturer.

Cardozo stated that the defendant’s duty is to ensure that their vehicles and the components they install in them are safe. The defendant cannot escape liability because the plaintiff did not have a direct contract with the company manufacturing the parts. 

This decision removed the privity of the contract and became grounds for torts involving strict liability.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

Ehline law and our personal injury attorneys have over 15 years of experience handling tort claims and tort lawsuits. If you suffered injuries due to another’s fault, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be eligible for compensation.

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