Difference Between Tort Law and Criminal Law

Tort Law vs Criminal Law

Difference between tort law and criminal law is not hard to understand. Many of us have a somewhat fair knowledge of what constitutes Tort Law and what constitutes Criminal Law. At first glance, we know that they both involve an act of wrongdoing. Tort is derived from the Latin word ‘Tortus’, which means wrong. A crime, on the other hand, also denotes a wrong, a very serious one. Despite the fact that both recognise and declare certain acts as wrongful and therefore unacceptable, there is a difference. It lies in the types of wrongful acts that fall within the purview of each body of law.

What is Tort Law?

A Tort refers to a civil wrong. This means that Tort Law is dealt with in a civil proceeding. Tort Law encompasses situations in which harm has been caused to a person or property. Typically, the person who suffered harm initiates an action in a civil court against the person who caused the harm. Further, in a case involving Tort Law, the person who suffered injury sues the party at faul t in order to obtain relief or compensation for the injury. Compensation under Tort Law is typically awarded in the form of damages. Damages can include damages for loss of earnings, property, pain or suffering, financial or medical expenses.

Think of Tort Law as an avenue through which the aggrieved party seeks compensation of a financial nature for the loss he/she suffered. Examples of Torts include negligence, defamation, liability for defects in products, nuisance or economic torts. Negligence revolves around the duty of care and the failure to exercise a duty of care in a particular instance; for example, causing a motor accident.

Keep in mind that Tort Law typically constitutes three categories of Torts: Intentional torts, such as when a person had fair knowledge that his/her action would cause the harm, strict liability torts, which by their very definition exclude the degree of care exercised by the guilty party and instead focus solely on the physical aspect of the action such as the harm caused. There are also negligent torts, which involve the unreasonableness of a guilty party’s actions.

What is Criminal Law?

Criminal Law encompasses the world of crime. It is defined as a wrong arising from the violation of a public duty. Think of Criminal Law as dealing with wrongful acts that affect society or the public collectively; in the sense that it disrupts the peace and order of society. This is in contrast to Tort Law, which deals specifically with wrongful acts that affect an individual personally. Criminal Law is a body of law that regulates the conduct of society and ensures the protection of citizens by punishing those who do not act in accordance with such law. The crimes of murder, arson, rape, robbery and burglary are crimes that affect the society as a whole. For example, if there are a series of murders committed by one person, more commonly referred to as serial killing, then, the safety of society is at risk. Crimes falling within the purview of Criminal Law are dealt with in a criminal proceeding.

Difference Between Tort Law and Criminal Law


In contrast to Tort Law, a criminal proceeding results in either imprisonment, death penalty or the imposition of a fine. There is no compensation paid to the victim of the crime. However, there are occasions when a victim, that is the person injured, will sue for compensation separately in a civil proceeding. For example, a crime such as an assault or battery  can also fall within the confines of Tort Law if the victim seeks financial compensation. In Criminal Law, the emphasis is placed mostly on the severity and effect of the guilty party’s actions rather than the injuries of the victim. However, in Tort Law, emphasis is placed on the harm or loss suffered by the victim.

What is the difference between Tort Law and Criminal Law?

• Tort Law refers to a civil wrong and is more personal in nature.

• Criminal Law refers to crimes committed against society.

• The focus of Tort Law lies mainly on the nature of the victim’s loss and harm while Criminal Law focuses on the actions of the guilty party.

• In Tort Law, the guilty party will have to pay compensation.

• In a case involving Criminal Law, the guilty party will either have to pay a fine or he/she will be imprisoned for a particular period.


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  1. Criminal law  by SchuminWeb (CC BY-SA 3.0)