What is tort law? In summary, 'tort' involves a set of laws used in civil cases (not criminal) which solve situations among people who have been harmed by the actions of another. Tort law holds people accountable for the liability associated with the consequences of their actions, when they harm another individual or entity. The Colorado Constitution unequivocally endorses tort law in the Bill of Rights by explaining that courts will assign a speedy remedy for every injury to a person, property or character.
Tort law addresses conduct that harms another in an unreasonable manner. The plaintiffs are usually victims of injury that resulted (to some degree) from the actions of tortfeasors (defendants). Tort seeks to make our overall society a safer place to be by punishing conduct through liability.
- Intentional Torts: This means that someone intentionally caused harm to another. This category of tort is the most closely related with criminal law; in fact, one's willful action may be both a criminal and civil infraction.
- Negligence: This refers to when someone is harmed as a result of unreasonable actions (or inactions) of a careless manner. This is the most commonly found category in cases today.
- Strict Liability: This category is seen commonly in product liability type cases. A party was harmed as a result of another, yet the action was not intentional or the direct result of a clearly negligent action. This category is referred to “absolute liability” as well.
Like in criminal cases, there may be ways for defendants to create justifications to defend themselves. These may be essentially “excuses” for their actions. One largely employed method is through contributory negligence, where the defendant cites that the plaintiff's own actions were a contributing factor to their harm. The defendant may not be completely denying that they contributed to the result, but that both parties collectively led did so.
Another defense available to a defendant is the concept of assumed risk. This is most common in cases where the plaintiff was engaging in some sort of physical or recreational activity. Examples where this defense is used would be liability suits involving accidents that occurred while the plaintiff was skiing, aboard an amusement park ride, or attending a sporting event. Essentially, the plaintiff was participating in activity that inherently has risks associated with it—and they were aware of.
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