Before diving into what tort law is and what it covers, let us take an example and understand how tort is committed in our day-to-day lives. For example, let’s consider that on a random Saturday evening, you and your friends decide to go for a walk on the streets nearby. Now while walking, you and your friends suddenly fall down due to some garbage that was randomly thrown by the people living nearby. This occasionally happens, particularly in a country like India, but can anyone be held responsible for this. See most of us are of the opinion that since an incident like this has taken place, I should be more cautious from the next time. Is this all that one can do? Not, not at all. The people living nearby had a responsibility in the circumstance mentioned above, and one can hold them accountable for the same. They were slack in their responsibilities, and they have to compensate for the same. This is what tort law is about, it deals with wrongs of such kinds.
Law of Torts vs Law of Tort
To decide whether it is the law of torts or the law of tort, we need to study two theories The Winfield tort theory and Salmond’s tort theory. According to the Winfield “tort” theory, of any harm that is caused and for which there is no proper justification given, then that harm has to be viewed as a tort. According to Winfield, who is regarded as the chief supporter of this theory, if a neighbor is injured, he can sue the person responsible for the injury regardless of whether the wrong committed has a specific name or not in tort. The individual held liable must show that there is a legal reason for their actions so as to prevent them from any consequences. In the M.C Mehta v. Union of India case, the Indian judiciary backed Winfield’s theory and also validated the same. Salmond supported the law of “torts,” which, according to him, only applies when one or more nominating torts cover the wrong. Pigeon hole theory is another name that has been given to this theory. In this theory, it is believed that the plaintiff must place the wrong committed under the already existing torts to succeed under this theory.
What is Tort?
The word tort originates from the Latin word “tortum,” which means “twisted” or “crooked.” Salmond believes that,
“Tort is a civil wrong for which the remedy is a common-law action for unliquidated damages, and which is not exclusively a breach of contract, breach of trust, or other merely equitable obligation.”
A tort is not the same as a contract violation or a breach of trust. A tort occurs when one party’s actions cause harm to another party because of the negligence or carelessness of the party. The person who sues is a ‘plaintiff,’ whereas the one who is sued is a ‘defendant.’ The individual who causes the injury must compensate the injured party (plaintiff), which can be in the form of money. ‘Damages’ refers to the money obtained in the form of compensation. To sue for damages, there must have been a violation of duty towards the plaintiff that resulted in the injury.
Tort law permits people to hold the other party responsible for their injuries.
Types of Tort
Intentional Tort refers to a tort caused by a person/group of people (i.e. the defendant) intentionally by doing unlawful acts. Assault, battery, trespass, false imprisonment, and defamation are examples of intentional tort.
Battery occurs when physical force is exerted on another person’s body offensively, and this force results in some harm. A battery can also be defined as offensive touching that occurs without the other party’s agreement. Even though the person did not want to hurt the other person, if he knows that his actions could harm someone in any way, he is guilty of the tort of battery.
When one person’s action causes apprehension in the mind of the other person that the behavior of the first party is likely or intended to hurt them, then such action is called assault. It might include everything from placing a pistol at someone to verbally threatening them. Fear should not be confused with apprehension. When a person is aware that an injury is imminent, they experience apprehension while this is not the case with fear. An assault, unlike a battery, does not include physical contact.
False Imprisonment is nothing but the wrongful detention of a person against his will. It is not quintessential for a person to be imprisoned; the mere inability of escaping from a certain location against the person’s will is sufficient to form a tort of false imprisonment. It can include physical force (though actual force is not necessarily required), a physical barrier such as a locked door, the improper use of legal authority, etc.
The invasion of one’s property, land, person, or possessions to cause harm is called trespass. No matter how minor or unreasonable interference is, if it can cause harassment or harm to the other person then it is trespass. The property owner’s legal right is violated when he is deprived of his right to enjoy the benefits of the property due to the misappropriation or exploitation of his rights. A few examples of trespass are trespass to the person, trespass to land, and trespass to chattels.
Defamation is damage or harm done to a person’s reputation, goodwill, or character. Defamation is basically of two types: libel and slander. Libel is the publication of a false assertion that is likely to harm another person’s reputation. The term “publication” refers to the fact that it should be brought to the attention of a third party and also it must be printed, such as texts, photos, cartoons, statues, and so on. Slander occurs when a false statement verbally causes another person’s reputation to be tarnished.
Tort Based on Negligence
Negligent Torts are wrongful acts caused by the negligence of another person or group of people. These are situations that frequently occur due to a person failing to act with the level of caution that a person of ordinary prudence would. It is critical to demonstrate that there was no additional duty of care owed and that a person was negligent in exercising the level of care that a prudent person would have exercised. Negligent harm to someone’s property or body is one example of such a tort. For example, under negligent torts, a person who has negligently disobeyed traffic laws and caused an accident is accountable.
Torts and Strict Liability
In torts falling under this category, a person is held accountable regardless of whether he intended to conduct the wrongdoing or not because these Torts are so stringent that the courts have decided that there is no need to prove intent in these cases. Acts of producing defective goods and eatable items that cause a substantial injury to the consumer’s life are common examples of such torts. In such circumstances, not only the producer is held accountable, but all others engaged in the faulty product’s supply chain are also held liable until it is determined who was at fault.
Torts and India
It is claimed that the Crown in India legally introduced tort law but tort already existed in Hindu and Muslim law to deal with people’s evil acts. Tort law is founded on the ideas of fairness, justice, and morality. It has long been debated whether India requires a tort law or not. The Indian courts have often said that tort law is necessary for India and beneficial to society’s growth and development. In their judgements, the courts have acknowledged the importance of torts by awarding exemplary damages in cases of carelessness, compensating rape victims, and recognizing governmental torts, i.e., torts committed by government personnel. The tort law is applied selectively in Indian courts, depending on whether it is appropriate for the circumstances of Indian society. Justice Bhagwati in M.C Mehta v. Union of India observed that
“We have to evolve new principles and lay down new norms which will adequately deal with new problems which arise in a highly industrialized economy. We cannot allow our judicial thinking to be constructed by reference to the law as it prevails in England or for the matter of that in any foreign country. We are certainly prepared to receive light from whatever source it comes but we have to build our own jurisprudence.”
Several notable decisions by the Supreme Court of India have caused a huge impact on the Indian law of torts. Tort themes have been employed in newer laws such as the Environment Protection Act, 1986, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the Human Rights Protection Act, 1988, and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. But when we compare this to the development of Torts in other nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States, Tort law is still growing in India.
This does not mean that the courts do not have jurisdiction or recognize or hear legitimate tort claims. Torts are not well-known among the general public because they are not codified. It is critical to emphasize Torts’ fundamental ideas and concepts so that a person can grasp their rights and obligations under the law. Thus, by fiercely, expanding public awareness of this branch of law, and gradually developing this area of law, India might lay a firmer foundation for a codified or more developed Tort law.