What Is Tort Law?

By Elaine Bright | April 29, 2014

Elaine Bright – Pace Personal Injury Lawyer in Kenora: What is tort law? Esteemed legal author, Lewis Klar, notes “…despite the fact that the law of torts has an enormous impact on people’s lives, very few probably have even heard of the word ‘tort.’”

What Is Tort Law?

Tort law is the law that requires us to pay damages to someone who suffers harm if we do something that we know, or ought to know, will cause that harm. If we go through a red light and cause an accident that results in serious, permanent harm to someone, we will have to pay compensation for causing that harm (or our insurance will).

Within tort law, the area that affects people the most is the law of negligence. Negligence may exist in law if someone owes a “duty of care” to others. For example, drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road; manufacturers owe a duty of care to people who use their products, and teachers owe a duty of care to their students.

Product Liability

Someone who owes a duty of care to another person has a legal obligation to take reasonable care not to do something – or fail to do something – if the action, or failure to act, would likely cause harm to another person. This is where manufacturer and product liability comes into play. If a car manufacturer learns that the hood on one of its models can pop up unexpectedly, the manufacturer has a legal obligation to take steps to inform anyone driving that model of car of the defect. If the manufacturer does not do so and an accident occurs as a result of the defect, the company could be liable to pay compensation to any injured party.

Even those of us who give references have a duty of care to people who receive those references and rely on them. If someone gives a glowing reference for a former employee who was not really a good employee, the person who gave the reference could be sued by the new employer for expenses related to training the employee, dismissing them and replacing them.

“Reasonable Behaviour” In The Eyes of the Law

Tort law requires us to act “reasonably” to ensure that we do not harm others. But what is “reasonable” behaviour? The courts have said that the standard in law is what would be expected of someone of average intelligence who was taking a normal amount of care. The standard is not what family members of a victim would expect, what witnesses would expect, or what you or I would expect someone to do in the situation that resulted in harm.
In order to determine what reasonable behaviour is, often courts hear evidence as to standards in an industry or occupation. An electrician might be called upon to describe standard practices in a case involving faulty wiring. An engineer might give evidence about standards in bridge design in a case involving a bridge collapse. A legal expert might testify about standards of practice if a client sues a lawyer who represented them.
Ever since I studied tort law in law school, I have had a “reasonable person” in my head. If I am faced with a dilemma that I want to address without over-reacting, I try to step outside the situation and ask myself what others would consider a reasonable response – a response that is cautious but not overly so. I find that this helps a lot with certain types of problem-solving, and I invite you to create such a person yourself. You might not want to talk out loud to your “reasonable person” though, as that could lead to a whole new set of problems…

Elaine Bright is a lawyer with Pace Law Firm. She handles cases in Kenora and throughout Northwestern Ontario. Pace’s personal injury lawyers have been helping accident victims in Toronto and throughout Ontario since 1980.