A tort is a wrongful civil act (not criminal) that results in injury to another person or a person’s property or reputation. As a result, the injured party is entitled to money damages. There are three types of torts: negligence, intentional acts and strict liability.
- Negligence is a careless act or failure to act reasonably where one knew or should have known to do so (e.g., accidents).
- Intentional acts are exactly that — intentional acts to harm (e.g., assault and battery).
- Strict Liability is liability without fault. Strict liability applies to inherently dangerous activities, such as housing wild animals. In many cases, manufacturers are held strictly liable for injuries to the public caused by their medical devices and pharmaceutical drug products.
There are three types of damages that may be awarded in a tort case: compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief.
- Compensatory damages consist of monetary compensation for what a plaintiff has lost or suffered as the result of a tort.
- Punitive damages are monies paid by a defendant as punishment for committing a tort maliciously or intentionally, in order to discourage similar future acts by the defendant and others.
- Injunctive relief is granted to stop someone from doing something and/or to require certain actions. Injunctive relief may be granted along with money damages.
Reports show that compensation in civil lawsuits has been on the decline for many years. According to the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), tort cases declined by 25% between 1999 and 2008, which is in contrast to the information brought forth by advocates of tort reform.
According to the NCSC, tort cases comprise only 5% of the civil caseload in the United States. Contract lawsuits, which are more likely to involve corporations and other business disputes, are 10 times more numerous, making up 51% of the court’s work. While tort cases are on the decline, the number of contract cases rose 63% between 1999 and 2008.
The amount of monetary damages in civil tort cases is actually small. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has calculated that the median monetary award for civil tort cases is only $31,000.00. The award of punitive damages, which is designed to punish defendants for outrageous conduct such as fraud or the disregard of the safety of others, is rare. With a median amount of $55,000.00, punitive damage awards are only granted in 5% of all civil tort cases and almost never in medical malpractice cases. Both the NCSC and the National Practitioner Databank (NPDB), to which medical malpractice payments must be reported, show that the number of malpractice payments have steadily dropped over the last 10 years.
The number of malpractice payments in 2010 was 13,277 nationwide, equating to a 35% drop since 2001. According to the NCSC, medical malpractice cases represent under 2% of all civil cases, and less than 8% of tort cases, with 22% of medical malpractice cases involving the death of the patient. In fact, malpractice insurance premium increases experienced by health care professionals have found to be cyclical and not tied to medical malpractice lawsuits.