Under English law, a tort is a civil wrong – other than a breach of contract - for which the law provides a remedy. Tort law provides remedies for a wide range of situations in which harm, injury, or damage has been caused. The harm, injury, or damage might be physical or psychiatric injury to a person, damage to property, or economic and financial loss.

Tort law deals with civil wrongs not based on contract. It should be contrasted with wrongs which are punishable by the State, which are dealt with under the criminal law. Of course, it is possible that some wrongs will be both a tort and a crime. One example of this is assault. If person A, for example, unlawfully hits and injures person B, this will be both a criminal offence and a tort. Person A may be punished under the criminal law by the State, and person B may also bring a claim for damages from person A.

Like other areas of English law, torts are made up of elements. Elements are individual parts of a tort which must exist, and be established, for the tort to be proved. For example, the tort of negligence is made up of the elements of:

· the existence of a duty of care

· the breach of that duty of care

· the breach of duty has caused harm/injury/damage/loss, both factually and legally (causation).

The tort of negligence covers a wide range of civil wrongs where, essentially, some element of actionable carelessness is involved. For example, if you drive your car carelessly and injure someone, you may be liable in negligence for that injury. Negligence, essentially, deals with situations where carelessness has caused harm, damage, injury, or loss. It includes situations where professional people owe a duty of care to others (for example, a doctor to a patient, or a lawyer to his or her client) and where their careless has caused harm, damage, injury, or loss. We call this professional negligence.

Sometimes, the loss which has been suffered is financial. For example, think of a situation where a financial adviser gives you negligent advice about an investment. You follow the advice, and the investment is bad. In this situation, you may lose a lot of money. If the loss is purely financial, this is called economic loss.

The essential principles of the tort of negligence have been developed by the courts in the form of case law over many years. There are also special liability regimes. In other words, Parliament has passed legislation which introduces statutory rules. These regimes add to the common law and, generally, strengthen the common law rules. The following are examples of special liability regimes, where statutory rules apply:

· Occupiers’ liability – This is a statutory regime which imposes duties on the occupiers of premises; for example, to ensure that they are safe. The statutes here are the Occupiers’ Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984;

· Employers’ liability – This regime deals with duties which are imposed on employers; for example, to provide a safe place of work, a safe system of work, and so on. A variety of statutes have been passed in this area;

· Product liability – this regime deals with, for example, liability for injury, harm, or damage caused by defective products.

In the next part in this short series, we will look at several other torts.


Which word, in bold, in the text above means:

1. Giving a sufficient reason to bring legal proceedings.

2. Financial compensation

3. Something which puts right, or tries to put right, a bad or unpleasant situation.

4. legally responsible

5. a body of written laws


Decide which word from Exercise 1 best fits in the following sentences.

1. If you drive negligently and hit someone, you may be ……………………….. for any injuries they suffer.

2. The defendant lost the case and had to pay the claimant …………………….. in the sum of £5,000.

3. In order to strengthen the common law position, Parliament has passed ……………………….., such as the Occupiers’ Liability Acts 1957 and 1984.


Exercise 1

1. actionable

2. damages

3. remedy

4. liable

5. legislation

Exercise 2

1. liable

2. damages

3. legislation

Note: The material in this post is for study and educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should consult an appropriate lawyer or legal adviser.

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021

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