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What is a Tort Claim?

By Andrea Long
Updated May 16, 2024
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A tort claim is a legal claim made in response to being subjected to a wrongful act that did not involve a breach of contract. Torts can be classified into five categories: intentional torts, negligence, strict liability, product liability, and miscellaneous. When a person files a tort claim, he or she is filing a civil lawsuit against the person or other entity that committed the tort. To sue successfully, a plaintiff must prove that all of the elements of the tort were committed.

To have a claim for an intentional tort, the plaintiff must be able to prove three elements: intent, a volitional act, and causation. Intentional tort liability arises when a person or entity intends to bring about mental or physical harm to another person and that other person experiences mental or physical harm as a result of the accused’s actions. One example is false imprisonment, which results from the intentional confinement or restraint of a person to a contained space without justification.

A plaintiff has a tort claim of negligence if he or she can prove the elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. A negligence claim arises when a person has not intended to cause harm, but his unreasonable act or his unreasonable failure to act causes injury to another person. The defendant might have had a duty to uphold the standard of care but will have breached that duty, causing injury to the plaintiff. To have a negligence claim, it is not enough for a person’s negligent act to have caused harm to another person. The other person must actually show damages that resulted from the negligent act.

In a strict liability tort, a person might be held liable for the plaintiff’s injury without having committed a wrongful act. The plaintiff must assert the elements that the defendant had an absolute duty to make something safe and that the defendant breached that duty, resulting in injury to the plaintiff or to the plaintiff’s property. Strict liability claims can arise when a defendant has engaged in ultra-hazardous or abnormally dangerous activities, when a defendant’s animal has harmed the plaintiff, or when the defendant’s product has harmed the plaintiff. For example, if a company demolishes a building and a person suffers injury during the demolition, the company might be held strictly liable for that person’s injury.

Most plaintiffs bring product liability claims under a strict liability theory. Under this theory, the manufacturer and any commercial supplier of the product that caused the injury can be held strictly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries if that product was dangerously defective. For example, if a company made cotton swabs on a sharp wooden stick with the knowledge that consumers might use these swabs to clean their ears, the company might be held strictly liable for any consumers’ punctured eardrums.

Other tort claims might be based on nuisance, defamation, invasion of privacy, or fraudulent misrepresentation. Nuisance results from a wrongdoer’s interfering with the real property rights of another person without physically invading that person’s real property. For example, a plaintiff might have a nuisance claim against a factory that produces strong odors that waft onto the plaintiff’s real property, preventing the plaintiff from enjoying fresh air on his or her own property.

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