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In India, a tort refers to a civil wrong committed by one person against another, resulting in harm, injury or damage. Torts are primarily governed by common law principles and judicial precedents, supplemented by statutory provisions such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. 

Unlike criminal law, which focuses on punishing offenders for offences against the state, tort law centres around compensating victims for the harm they have suffered due to the actions or omissions of others.

This article will discuss the nature of torts in detail.

Nature and Characteristics of Torts

The nature and characteristics of torts are:

Civil Wrong

A tort is a civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal offence. It involves a violation of a legal duty owed by one person to another, resulting in harm, injury or damage.

Breach of Duty

A tort occurs when there is a breach of duty. The person committing the tort fails to fulfil their legal obligation or duty towards another person, whether it is a duty to exercise reasonable care, respect someone’s property rights or refrain from committing intentional harm.

Harm or Injury

A tort results in harm, injury or damage to the person, property, reputation or economic interests of another individual. This harm can be physical, emotional or financial in nature.


A tort requires a causal link between the wrongful act or omission and the harm suffered. The breach of duty must be the direct cause of the harm or injury suffered by the victim.

Legal Remedy

Torts provide a basis for seeking legal remedies. The injured party, known as the plaintiff, can file a lawsuit seeking compensation for the damages suffered, including monetary compensation, injunctions and declaratory relief.


One of tort law’s key objectives is to compensate the victim for the harm suffered. The compensation aims to restore the injured party to the position they would have been in had the tortious act not occurred. The compensation awarded is determined based on the nature and extent of the harm suffered.

Fault-Based Liability

In most tort cases, liability is based on fault. The person committing the tort must have acted negligently, intentionally or recklessly. However, certain torts, such as strict liability, do not require proof of fault and hold the defendant liable regardless of their intent or level of care.

Individual Rights

Torts protect individual rights and interests. They provide a legal mechanism for individuals to seek redress and hold others accountable for the harm caused. Torts encompass a wide range of rights, including personal integrity, property rights, privacy rights and economic interests.

Civil Proceedings

Tort claims are typically resolved through civil proceedings in a court of law. The burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, who must establish that the defendant’s actions or omissions caused the harm suffered. The defendant is given an opportunity to present a defence against the allegations.

Preponderance of Evidence

In tort cases, the standard of proof is generally based on a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused the harm suffered. It is a lower standard of proof compared to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.

Tort and Crime

Historically, torts were closely connected to criminal law and even today, certain aspects of damage laws include punitive elements. However, it’s important to recognize that torts are a specific type of civil wrong or injury. Civil and criminal wrongs are distinguished based on the available legal remedies.

Civil wrongs lead to civil litigation, whereas criminal procedures aim to punish defendants for accused acts. Civil proceedings focus on enforcing rights asserted by the plaintiff against the defendant, while criminal proceedings seek to punish the accused for their actions. Occasionally, the same mistake may be the subject of both procedures.

Contracts and Torts

P.H. Winfield‘s definition helps clarify the distinction between contracts and torts. According to Winfield, tort liability arises when a legal obligation owed to all people is violated and the violation can be addressed through legal action seeking unliquidated damages.

On the other hand, a contract is an agreement between parties that establishes a specific legal obligation. The contract’s nature, substance and implications are determined by the agreement reached between the parties. Salmond views contract as a result of individuals exercising the independent legislative power granted by the law to define their respective rights and duties.

Quasi-Contract and Tort

Instances, where a person is held responsible to another party without a formal agreement for money or rightful benefits, fall into the category of a quasi-contract. From an orthodox perspective, the presence of a hypothetical contract, suggested by the law, serves as the basis for the duty under a quasi-contract.

However, the radical viewpoint argues that the responsibility in a quasi-contract is distinct and rooted in the prevention of unfair enrichment.


The nature of torts reveals its distinctiveness as a civil wrong or injury. Although its origins can be traced back to criminal law, torts have evolved to focus on providing remedies for individuals who have suffered harm. Unlike criminal proceedings, which aim to punish offenders, civil proceedings seek to enforce the rights of the injured party. Torts can involve a wide range of actions, from negligence to intentional wrongdoing and their legal implications depend on the type of legal remedy sought. 

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