The field of tort law is a broad one. In fact, torts represent not one cohesive theory, but a number of distinct legal actions. The word tort derives from the old French word for “wrong,” and seems to have entered Anglo-American jurisprudence by way of the Normans who conquered England in 1066. Over the years, tort remedies evolved as civil actions to compensate injured persons. Originally there may have been a close link to the criminal law, at least as a means of punishing wrongdoers, but over the years tort remedies came to focus more on compensation than punishment.
Basic Theories of Tort Law
Today tort cases proceed on one of three basic theories: 1. International torts, where the defendant intended conduct that injured the plaintiff; 2. Negligence, where the defendant breached a duty to act with reasonable care and caused the plaintiff’s injury; and 3. Strict liability, where the defendant, for policy reasons, in held responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries regardless of fault. Although there are many kinds of torts, from personal injury to business torts, liability always rests on one of these theories.
This section describes a little bit about tort practice. Tort law is a widespread practice area because people can be injured anywhere. Tort lawyers may represent injured plaintiffs, defendants charged with liability, or insurance companies. Because many defendants are corporations such as manufacturers or distributors of products, or insurance companies protecting individuals against specified risks, defense practice is concentrated in larger law firms and in-house legal departments. Plaintiffs tend to be represented by individual practitioners or small firms specializing in tort law.
Personal Injury and Tort Problems
Because personal injuries and other tort problems are so pervasive, almost every lawyer in private practice will encounter some work in this field. The practice is litigation-intensive, however, so many generalists prefer to refer tort cases to those specialized in trying them. The unique contingency fee structure in the sort area gives plaintiff’s lawyers a percentage (typically one-third) of the recovery if they win or settle and nothing if they lose.
The arrangement can be very lucrative or unprofitable depending on the success of a lawyer’s practice. Typically, tort lawyers represent either plaintiffs or defendants, but the separation of plaintiff and defense practice is not as rigid as it is in some areas of law such as labor.