What is a Tort?
A tort is nothing but a ‘twisted action’. It is a civil wrong. When a person commits a wrong of civil nature like causing nuisance to a neighbour or being negligent in his action it is called a ‘tort’.
There are two schools of thought. Some people are of the view that it is the Law of Torts, there being a specific body of wrongs and you need to fit in your own tort into one of them. The counter view runs such that it is the Law of Tort and there are necessary ingredients to the commission of a tort and once fulfilled, you have a tort.
When is a tort committed?
When a legal injury is caused to a person, a tort is said to have been committed. It is assumed that every person owes a general duty of care to his neighbour. By ‘neighbour’ we do not mean the hot girl next door but it is any person who can be affected by your acts. When this duty of care is breached then a tort or a civil wrong is committed. For example, Sandipan and Aymen are neighbours. If Sandipan starts playing loud music in the middle of the night such that it creates nuisance and Aymen is disturbed then the latter’s legal right is injured and there lies a cause of action against Sandipan.
What you need to remember:
Injuria sine damno.
This Latin principle means there has been legal injury (“injuria”) but no actual damage has been caused.
Example : In the famous case of Ashby v. White a listed voter was not allowed to cast his vote by the polling officer. The voter’s candidate of choice ultimately won the election. So no actual damage was caused but there was a violation of the person’s legal right to vote. This is injuria or legal injury even though no actual damage has been caused. This is a tort and the aggrieved party has a right of action in tort law.
Damnum sine injuria
This means that there has been damage but no legal injury has been committed so no action lies in tort law.
Example : In the Gloucester Grammar School case there was an established school in the locality. A new school was set up which charged lower fees on account of which people started patronising the new school. The old school filed a case against the latter saying that they had caused them financial loss and claimed compensation. The court held that no legal right had been violated and as such no compensation can be granted. Thus if damage is caused which does not lead to violation of a legal right then no action lies under tort law.
Other terms to remember:
Plaintiff and Defendant:
In tort law the two parties in a case are known as plaintiff and defendant. Plaintiff is the aggrieved party who files the suit claiming some legal injury being done to him. Defendant is the person who is alleged to have committed the tort.
The person who commits a tort, i.e. a civil wrong is said to be a tort-feasor. When two or more persons jointly commit a civil wrong they are called ‘joint tort-feasors’.
Next in this series : General Defenses to Torts