Over the summer, we published a video to answer the question, “What is a tort claim?” In it, we explained, “If a person’s negligent act caused your injuries, you are entitled to recover your damages from them in a lawsuit. This is called a tort claim.”
That definition is good insofar as it goes, but today we want to take a more in-depth look at what tort claims are, how they differ from other types of legal claims, and what types of tort claims exist. So, let’s modify that definition to provide a broader picture of tort claims: A tort claim is a legal claim that:
- Seeks compensation for an injury caused by another person’s wrongful act, and
- Can be pursued in a lawsuit.
To help flesh out this definition, let’s examine the following:
- The differences between civil law, which includes tort claims, and criminal law;
- The differences between tort claims and other types of civil claims; and
- What types of tort claims exist.
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Civil vs. Criminal Law
Tort claims are a part of civil law, as opposed to criminal law. What’s the difference?
Civil law seeks to compensate a person who has suffered an injury. Generally, it does not seek to punish the person who caused the injury. To receive compensation, the injured party (the plaintiff) must sue the person who caused his or her injury (the tortfeasor, or defendant) and prove the tort claim.
If the plaintiff prevails in a civil lawsuit, the defendant will typically be ordered to pay monetary compensation. The court may also order the defendant to do or stop doing something — like return property to its rightful owner, for instance — but the defendant is never in danger of imprisonment as the result of a civil case.
In contrast, criminal law punishes those who violate criminal prohibitions — such as laws against murder or theft. These laws are put in place to protect not only individuals, but society as a whole. When a person is alleged to have committed a crime, a public prosecutor prosecutes that person in an attempt to impose criminal penalties. Those penalties could be fines, imprisonment, or both.
(Note that the phrase “civil law” can be confusing. It can mean “non-criminal law” in a common-law system like Ontario’s. But it can also refer to an alternative to the common-law system that is followed in many other jurisdictions, including Quebec here in Canada. To be clear, we’re using it in the former sense, not the latter.)
Tort Claims vs. Other Civil Claims
Civil law covers a wide variety of legal claims, not just tort claims. To develop a clearer idea of what a tort claim is, it is helpful to contrast it with other types of civil claims. They include:
- Contract claims. When a person fails to perform his or her obligations under a contract, the other party to the contract can sue. The remedy for a breach of contract is to compensate the injured party so that he or she is in the same position as if the contract had been performed.
- Property claims. Property claims are claims about the ownership, possession, or use of property, rather than property damage caused by another’s wrongful act (which would be a tort claim). For example, a dispute over who owns a plot of land would involve a property claim. The remedy would be an order recognizing the actual owner.
- Family-law claims. Family law covers such topics as marriage and divorce and parental rights and obligations. The outcome of a family-law claim could be, for instance, a divorce or an order that a parent pay child support.
Types of Tort Claims in Ontario
Tort claims can be classified using several different methods. For example, we might classify tort claims based on the type of injury caused: many involve personal injuries (which can themselves be divided into physical, emotional, and psychological injuries), whereas others involve only property damage, and still others may be limited to financial injuries.
Often, torts are classified into one of two broad categories depending on whether intent is one of the elements of the tort. Tort elements are the facts that must be proven for a tort claim to prevail. Tort claims that include an element of intent are known as intentional torts; those that do not are, unsurprisingly, referred to as unintentional torts.
A key element of intentional torts is that the tortfeasor acted with intent. For example, if someone injures you by hitting you with a baseball bat, that could be the tort of battery if he or she meant to hit you. If he or she was just mindlessly swinging the bat around without paying attention to his or her surroundings, that would not be battery, but it could be an unintentional tort.
Examples of intentional torts include:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
As explained above, unintentional torts are those for which intent does not need to be proven. Rather, these torts are committed when a person injures another negligently. In the law, the concept of negligence can be summarized as the failure to behave reasonably under the circumstances.
Unintentional torts include the following:
- Automobile accidents in which one of the drivers is at fault
- Premises liability (i.e., slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall cases)
- Medical malpractice
- Wrongful death
- Dog bites
- Defective products
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Do you have an Ontario tort claim?
If you have been injured in Ontario by another’s wrongful act — whether intentional or unintentional, and whether your injury is physical, emotional, psychological, or financial — you may have a tort claim. To obtain the compensation you deserve, you should hire a qualified Ontario personal-injury lawyer.
Preszler Law Firm is a Toronto personal-injury firm that helps injured Ontarians with all kinds of tort claims. Contact one of the tort-claim experts at Preszler Law Firm today for a free consultation.