“Tort law” describes that broad area of law–usually studied by law students during their first year
in an American law school, along with contracts and criminal law–which, in a nutshell, concerns
Jill’s right to recover from Jack for damages that Jack has caused to Jill’s person or property.
The term “tort” comes to us from Latin, through French, and simply means “wrong.”
In the American legal system, torts are traditionally divided into three categories: Torts of
negligence, intentional torts, and strict liability torts. An example of negligent conduct is leaving
a rake out on the sidewalk in front of one’s house, prongs up, thereby leading to injury on the part
of a school child known to walk on the sidewalk to and from school each day. An example of an
intentional tort is knowingly publicizing false statements against someone in order to harm her
reputation. Strict liability, as the term implies, is imposed upon persons even if they have done
nothing wrong, either negligently or intentionally. For example, a company that dynamites
buildings for a living, even if it does so with great care, may be held strictly liable for any damages resulting from its activities.
Perhaps the most type of tort case is an automotive tort case, in which the claimant is a person
injured in a motor vehicle accident through the alleged negligence of another person. Some
lawyers who refer to themselves as “personal injury” lawyers focus exclusively upon this type of
case. While victims of motor vehicle accidents are generally eligible to receive payment for their
initial medical expenses and lost income under a Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) provision of
an insurance policy–whether that policy was owned by the injured party, or by someone in her
household, of by the offending driver. However, PIP payments do not compensate persons for
emotional pain and physical suffering. Furthermore, at least in the State of Maryland, PIP payments
generally do not cover more than the first $2,500.00 of expenses. Therefore, to obtain fair
compensation for physical injuries and pain and suffering, an injured party may wish to retain an
attorney to negotiate with the opposing party’s insurance company and, if necessary, file a
lawsuit against the negligent driver.
Most lawyers handle personal injury cases based upon a contingency fee agreement, which
must be in writing under the Rules of Professional Conduct. A contingency fee agreement is a
representation agreement providing that an attorney will be entitled to a stated percentage of the
amount recovered by his client and that, if nothing is recovered, the attorney receives nothing.
In addition to automotive torts, other tort cases that involve mostly physical injuries include civil
assaults and batteries, dog-bite cases, boating accident cases, and premises liability cases. In
other personal injury-type tort cases, such as malicious prosecution and defamation cases, a
victim may seek relief for psychological rather than physical injuries. Workers compensation
and medical malpractice may also be considered as areas of personal injury-type tort practice,
although Dr. Belcher does not customarily handle either workers compensation or medical
malpractice cases. Other than torts in which the alleged injury alleged is a physical or emotional
injury suffered by the claimant, tort law includes economic torts, in which the alleged damage is
to a person’s pocketbook.