Tort law is a branch of the law which covers civil wrongs, such as defamation and trespassing, among many other transgressions. Under tort law, if someone suffers a physical, legal, or economic harm, he or she may be entitled to bring suit. If the suit is deemed valid, damages may be awarded to the victim to compensate for his or her troubles. Most of these laws are found in regional, state, and national civil codes, which often spell out limits on damages and the statute of limitations for tort cases.
Many people divide tort law into three rough categories: negligent torts, intentional torts, and strict liability torts. Torts arising out negligence are civil wrongs caused by negligent behavior or a failure to practice due diligence. For example, if you are playing soccer in the street and you accidentally kick the ball through someone's living room window, this may be a negligence tort. Medical malpractice and other forms of professional negligence are also covered under the umbrella of negligence torts.
Intentional torts are torts which involve a deliberate attempt to harm. Defamation is often viewed as an intentional tort, as is battery, fraud, false imprisonment, and interference with the economic operations of a company. Strict liability torts cover product liability; if a potato peeler takes your finger off when you operate it as directed, the manufacturer could be liable, for example.
Tort law also covers issues like nuisances, such as noise pollution and loose livestock. In some countries, industrial pollution and releases of toxins are covered under tort law as “toxic torts,” allowing organizations and individuals to bring suit against companies which pollute. Nuisance torts can sometimes be challenging to prove, as the definition of a “nuisance” often varies from person to person.
As can be seen from some of the examples above, a tort doesn't have to cause physical injury or distress. It might cause economic damage, by forcing someone to replace something, interfering with someone's business, or causing someone to miss work. Or it may cause damage to someone's reputation or quality of life. In order for a tort case to succeed in court, the lawyers must generally be able to prove that the accused party had committed the wrong in question, and that the client suffered as a result. Damages may be awarded by a jury or a judge, depending on the case.
Incidentally, don't confuse “tort,” a branch of the law, with “torte,” a rich cake which typically includes a high volume of nuts or chocolate and eggs, with little to no flour.