Tort Law

Tort Law in the United States

Introduction to Tort Law

Tort derives its status from the Latin word for twisted, and comes to us from the Anglo-French derivation for a wrongful or illegal act involving injury.

Summary

The principles of tort law pervade modern society because they spell out the duties of care that we owe each other in our private lives. Tort law has had a significant impact on business because modern technology poses significant dangers and the modern market is so efficient at distributing goods to a wide class of consumers.

Unlike criminal law, tort law does not require the tortfeasor to have a specific intent to commit the act for which he or she will be held liable to pay damages. Negligence—that is, carelessness—is a major factor in tort liability. In some instances, especially in cases involving injuries caused by products, a no-fault standard called strict liability is applied.

What constitutes a legal injury depends very much on the circumstances. A person can assume a risk or consent to the particular action, thus relieving the person doing the injury from tort liability. To be liable, the tortfeasor must be the proximate cause of the injury, not a remote cause. On the other hand, certain people are held to answer for the torts of another—for example, an employer is usually liable for the torts of his employees, and a bartender might be liable for injuries caused by someone to whom he sold too many drinks. Two types of statutes—workers’ compensation and no-fault automobile insurance—have eliminated tort liability for certain kinds of accidents and replaced it with an immediate insurance payment plan.

Among the torts of particular importance to the business community are wrongful death and personal injury caused by products or acts of employees, misrepresentation, defamation, and interference with contractual relations. (1)

Tort Reform of tort law

Many states have enacted tort reform statutes that changed existing law relating to torts and especially to products liability actions. These laws tend to limit the amount of money an injured person can recover under both compensatory and punitive damages; increase the proof that an injured party must provide in order to recover; shorten the time during which an injured party can bring suit; and make the defense of tort claims easier.

In 1996 the Congress of the United States passed a national tort reform bill that included provisions similar to those found in state statutes. The bill also included a statute of repose, which is a provision that prevents plaintiffs from bringing a suit if a certain number of years have passed since the product was marketed, regardless of when the injury arose. The provision would have severely restricted products liability actions. In part because the act strongly limited the rights of potential plaintiffs, President Bill Clinton vetoed it. Efforts to enact reform legislation continue.” (2)

Online Resources about Tort Law

By James Evans (2001), who is the author of Law on the Net and Government on the Net (Nolo Press, Berkeley):

The Internet offers a wide range of databases containing facts and statistics on a host of injuries, accidents, and damaging agents, from cars to toxic materials. Let’s start with the law. Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Part VI, contains Chapter 171-Tort Claims Procedures (www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/28/ch171.html or http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/casecode/us codes/28/parts/vi/chapters/171/toc.html) for those of you suing a federal employee or agency. To look at the California Code (leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html) go to the Legislative Counsel’s site, where the code is kept current within a week of any official changes. If you want to see what might be coming over the horizon, the latest draft of the Uniform Apportionment of Tort Responsibility Act (law.upenn.edu/bll/ulc/uatla/tort0129.htm) and the final draft of the Uniform Law Commissioners’ Model Punitive Damages Act (law.upenn.edu/bll/ulc/mpda/finaldft.htm) is available from the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. (If you want to see all the recommended Uniform Model Laws and weigh in on them, go to the University of Pennsylvania Law School site (law.upenn.edu/bll/ulc/ulc.htm.)

The resources on the Net that can really help, especially when you’re in a hurry or not sure where to go for statistical support, are the government and private databases that abound in cyberspace. There are too many to mention individually, but on the government side many of the databases are offered by the obvious sources-you will have to explore a little to get to the nuggets. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (psc.gov/) provides its Consumer Product-Related Statistics (cpsc.gov/library/data.html) on injuries caused by specific products, such as Trampoline-Related Injuries (cpsc.gov/library/tramp00.pdf) and Baby Boomer Sports Injuries (cpsc.gov/library/boomer.pdf).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will bury you in facts (fda.gov/), as will the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (nhtsa.dot.gov/) and its Crash Statistics (www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa/) and Air Bag Related Cases (nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa/scireps.html). Visit, too, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/vicp/) and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazards Investigation Board (chemsafety.gov). Findlaw has a list of more of these government agencies (guide.lp.findlaw.com/01topics/22tort/gov_agencies.html).

Tort counsel can also help themselves to more factual abundance in a separate list that includes government and private groups, generally nonprofit organizations that monitor injuries, illnesses, and dangers. The National Safety Council offers its Research and Statistics (nsc.org/lrs/statstop.htm) summary of injuries occurring in just about every type of environment and invites you to order the entire annual report, available in print or CD form. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (highwaysafety.org/vehicle_ratings/ddr/ddr.htm) includes data on auto accidents by make and model. The National Transportation Safety Board Aviation Accident/Incident Database (nasdac.faa.gov/asp/fw_ntsb.asp) lets you search by keyword, airline, airport, aircraft, date, or specific accident number, and the Aviation Safety Statistical Handbook from the Federal Aviation Administration gives you monthly reports (nasdac.faa.gov/Safety_Handbook/), while the Near Midair Collisons Systems (nasdac.faa.gov/asp/fw_nmacs.asp) talks about those close calls that juries and judges might like to know about. In that vein is the Major Airline Disasters Database 1920-2000 (dnausers.d-n-a.net/dnetGOjg/Disasters.htm), maintained in England. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, via the U.S. Coast Guard, has a Boating Accident Report Database (bts.gov/ntda/barduscg/).

And there’s even more. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/) offers fact sheets, in PDF format, on traffic deaths, broken into categories that include Alcohol (www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/2.pdf), the Older Population (www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/7.pdf), and other germane groups.

Top hits include: msha.gov/fatals/fab.htm (U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration Fatality Information), osha.gov/oshstats/work.html (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Statistics and Data) and stats.bls.gov/oshhome.htm (Bureau of Labor Safety and Health Statistics).

Resources

Notes and References

  1. “Business and the Legal Environment”, by Don Mayer, Daniel M. Warner and George J. Siedel.
  2. Information about Tort Law in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia

See Also

  • Toxic Tort
  • Tort
  • National Manufactured Housing Construction And Safety Standards Act Of 1974
  • Tort Claims
  • Tort Liability
  • Fatal
  • Research and Innovative Technology Administration
  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • Moral injuries
  • US Medical Malpractice Tort Reform Resources
  • Theories of Tort Law

Tort Law in the International Business Landscape

Definition of Tort Law in the context of U.S. international business and public trade policy: Laws covering wrongful acts, damages, and injuries.

Tort Law: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Tort Law. This part provides references, in relation to Tort Law, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Tort Law by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Tort Law and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Tort Law or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Tort Law and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Tort Law. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Tort Law should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Tort Law when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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