Law and system

We have discussed exactly what is Tort Law. This often requires some explanation in a way that Contract, for instance, doesn’t. The word Tort comes from the Latin tortum meaning wrong or twisted. It is the root of the word ‘torture’. Tort developed through the common law 800 years ago as a way of avoiding violence, when people would take the law into their own hands. If one neighbour cut down a tree on another’s land - the wronged party might feel compelled to march over and cut down two trees in retaliation, or even worse, to punch the culprit on the nose. Instead, the King’s Peace provided the alternative of bringing a legal action in the tort of trespass, to land or goods, and obtaining financial compensation for the invasion of the plaintiff’s (now claimant) interest in property.

We’ve concluded that Tort is the branch of the civil, rather than criminal, law which provides a remedy (often damages) for a wrongfully inflicted injury or loss or for infringement of a protected interest.

Physical integrity or safety is protected by the torts of negligence, trespass to the person and public nuisance.

Interests in property are protected by the torts of negligence, public and private nuisance and trespass to land.

Interests in the use and enjoyment of land are protected by the tort of private nuisance.

Interests in reputation are protected by the tort of defamation, that is libel and slander.

Interests in privacy are protected by the new and developing tort of misuse of private information.

Not all interests are protected by the law of tort. Particularly in relation to the law of negligence, we have seen that there are significant restrictions around recovery for ‘pure’ economic loss and psychiatric injury.

It is necessary for you to understand the distinctions between tort law and contract and criminal law. There are also significant overlaps, for instance the tort of public nuisance is also a crime.

You should understand the objectives of tort law: in order of importance, they are compensation, deterrence and corrective justice.

Chapter 1 also covers what is known as the Tort System. By this we mean, how the vehicle for compensation for loss fits in with others: primarily state benefits but also no fault pay-outs and charity. There are significant drawbacks to the way that the tort system operates; it has been referred to as an ‘obstacle race’ due to the uncertainty and time and expense incurred in pursuing a tort claim. The findings of the Pearson Commission in the 1970s are still referred to today, when reform of aspects of the system are considered or implemented.

Insurance is a significant player in the tort system and you must understand its influence on the development of tort law. The 21st century has brought with it concerns in the UK about development of a ‘compensation culture’, that is the over-reliance on litigation. I suggest you consider the accuracy of this concern and also the way the law has adapted to address it.