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“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.


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