3 Key Misconceptions People Have on Torts in the Legal World

3 Key Misconceptions People Have on Torts in the Legal World

The legal term torts refers to an area of law, also called tort law, that offers civil redress to individuals and groups who suffered harm due to the accidental or nefarious unreasonable actions of another individual or organization. The person or organization could also have committed a crime, but the law allows both criminal and civil remedies in these cases.

This complex area of law fosters many misconceptions. Let’s look at the three most common misconceptions regarding the law of tort.

Misconception One: All Tortious Claims Go to Court

When you read that one party sued another party that refers to a tort. This matter of civil law may involve litigation, negotiation, or settlement. It can also include all three.

Because some of the most famous torts, such as the McDonald’s restaurant coffee case, go to court, people assume that all torts do. The case of Stella Liebeck, 79, and the dangerously hot coffee stood out among torts. McDonald’s served Liebeck coffee at a temperature so hot that it scalded her legs when it spilled on her inflicting third-degree burns. She required major medical treatment costing more than $20,000 and was scarred for life. During the investigation of her personal injury case, pre-trial, her attorneys uncovered that the restaurant chain served the coffee well above the necessary temperature (180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit), knowing its danger because Liebeck had joined a long list of individuals burned by it.

That case did go to trial. The litigation resulted in a $3 million award that included pain and suffering. In a later judicial proceeding, another judge reduced the award by 80 percent. The matter then went into negotiation to come to a firm settlement figure. Other cases skip litigation because the sued party offers a fair settlement outright or the matter goes through negotiations to reach a settlement out of court.

Misconception Two: Torts Only Deal with Physical Injuries

Torts also include wrongful actions that cause injury to an individual’s or organization’s reputation. The act of defaming a person falls into the category of torts. In the early summer of 2022, much of the world watched a tort unfold in court. Actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard in a tortious matter citing her public statements during their 2016 and thereafter, including a 2018 letter to the editor of The Washington Post, that he argues defamed him. Days after the publication of Heard’s letter, he says he lost his long-time role in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a part he’d played in six films in the series. Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse. The lawsuit centers around two tenets of torts:

  • libel, stating something in a print publication that isn’t true about a person or group that harms their reputation,
  • defamation, verbally saying something that isn’t true about a person or group that harms their reputation.

Misconception Three: Winning a Torts Case Requires a Legal Technicality

According to one of the co-founders of Legalist, Eva Shang, typically the attorney better at “common sense persuasion” wins the case. Courts of civil law attempt to produce an equitable outcome. The bevy of Motions to Dismiss consists of the legal technicalities, but once a matter reaches a jury, it gets decided based upon the moral compass of the 12 individuals hearing the testimony. Juries tend to vote based on seeing justice done. They aren’t lawyers, so their decisions come down to remaining within the law as the judge explains it while voting for the better presentation of facts.

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