What Is Negligence, and What Is a “Tort”?

No, a “tort” is not a dessert, nor does it go into the toaster for breakfast. “Tort” is a French word meaning harm or wrong. It is used to describe what has become a large area of American civil law. Torts are injuries to a person caused by the bad conduct of another that does not rise to the level of being criminal conduct i.e. there are no criminal penalties and no government prosecutors. Torts are divided into two areas: intentional and negligent misconduct. If a party is found guilty of one or both of these torts, then they can be liable in civil court (rather than criminal court) and can be required to pay money damages to the victim (rather than being incarcerated like in the criminal context.)

A big difference between trials involving “torts” and those involving criminal conduct is the burden of proof or the level of proof the party suing must meet in order to win. In criminal cases, the state prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the “bad” person committed the criminal act. In tort cases, however, the victim’s private lawyer need only prove that it is “more probably true than not true” that the defendant committed the bad act. Obviously, the amount of proof necessary to win in a civil tort case is much lower than in a criminal case.

Negligence is the type of tort that does not require any proof of intent by the defendant to cause harm to the victim. Rather, in negligence law, the victim need only prove that the defendant had a duty use reasonable care towards the victim and failed to use reasonable care, resulting in injury to the victim. In professional negligence cases, the victim must prove that the defendant failed to do what a reasonably careful or reasonably well qualified doctor, attorney, architect, or other professional would do under the same or similar circumstances, and that the failure to do so caused harm to the victim. In these professional negligence cases, the proof must typically be supported by the sworn testimony of an expert in the pertinent field.

The Chicago Personal Injury Attorneys at Friedman Law Offices, P.C. represent victims in all types of intentional and negligent tort cases. See our “Practice Areas” and “Results” tabs for the full range of tort cases we have handled successfully.

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