Visiting a personal injury attorney's office is a lot like visiting an oncologist. In the first place you would not be there unless you really had to be and on the other, there is a lot of unfamiliar jargon flying about which makes the unfamiliar venue even more unnerving.
Of course, you must bear in mind the fact that the oncologist and the attorney are there to fight on your behalf so, in both cases, if you are unclear about anything all you have to do is ask. In the meantime, let's look at a word which is very meaningful to a personal injury lawyer but that you are unlikely to have come across used in everyday – tort.
What is a Tort?
A tort is an action that causes harm to another person for which he or she might seek compensation. The word itself comes from the French word for wrong. In legal terminology, a tort is called a ‘civil wrong' and the victim of the physical harm or damages can seek compensation in civil court.
A tort may be both a civil wrong and a crime. For example a car thief might be tried in criminal court for grand theft auto and face prison time if convicted while at the same time the car owner might pursue him through civil court for compensation for any damages to the vehicle.
Types of Tort
- Intentional Tort – assault, fraud, the intentional causing of emotional distress or defamation would fall into this category.
- Negligence – injury or property damage resulting from an individual or entity not exercising a reasonable standard of care. Car accidents and Slip and Fall injury cases generally fall into this category.
- Strict Liability – a little harder to define, a strict liability tort is one in which the defendant is fully liable regardless of whether the injury was intended or whether the defendant was negligent. Strict liability torts include cases of Dog Bite and some Product Liability.
The Difference Between Negligence and Strict Liability Tort Cases
To understand the difference between Negligence and Strict Liability consider that the owner of a dog that bites a child could be taken to court for either negligence or strict liability, or both. To win in negligence, the child's guardian would have to prove that the dog owner had been negligent in securing the dog or mismanaging it in some way that demonstrated lack of the duty of care.
However, to win in strict liability, the child's guardian need not prove negligence on the part of the dog's owner. He need only prove that the tortious action occurred and that the defendant is the dog's owner. RCW 16.08.040.
Another example of the difference between negligence and strict liability torts can often be found in Product Liability cases. A consumer who has suffered damage to his person or property because of a poorly manufactured or designed product or because a product was supplied with inadequate or inaccurate instructions might see damages in negligence, or strict liability, or both. In Washington, the Washington Product Liability Law (WPLA) provides for strict liability against a manufacturer of a product. Under certain scenarios, a retailer may be held strictly liable as well.
Tort Case Regulations
As we have mentioned elsewhere on our website, the rules governing lawsuits differ from state to state but they may also differ significantly depending on the specifics of the case. For example, in general the statute of limitations in a Personal Injury case in Washington is three years but certain civil actions which are classed as torts such as slander and assault and battery have a two year statute of limitations. Trespass, also a tort, has a statute of limitation of three years.
Compare this to Oregon, where the statute of limitations on trespass is 6 years and personal injury only 2 years and it becomes very clear why it is always advisable to seek the counsel of an attorney experienced in the laws of the state in which the injury occurred.