In this article, Shreya Ahuja of RGNUL discusses strategies and techniques for using principles of tort in practical life situations.
Ask a fresher inside a law school of a law they know, Law of Tort will definitely find a mention in their answer. One of the subjects taught to law students in their first semester is Tort Law. We study, we cram and we forget the principles of law. The article is a guide on how to use the lessons taught in your law of tort classes in practical life situations.
Tort means ‘to twist’
Tort Law is generally the most common law that one studies in a law school or in any field of law but the least common law that one makes a use of in a practical life. The term ‘tort’ is derived from a Latin word “tortum” which means “to twist”. Any such action which is twisted, crooked and wrong arises an action under tort law and is in contrast to a word rectum which means straight. Everyone is expected to behave in a straightforward manner, and one who deviates from his straight path into crooked ways is said to have committed a tort. We in our daily lives, see instances where people act in a manner which may cause an infringement of our rights is actionable under the law of torts. But we are generally not aware of these rights. We don’t know that such a person can also be held responsible for such actions of his. For example, if a friend of yours demeans you publically about anything which you think is not true, you can hold him liable under the tort of defamation.
Some people intentionally or unintentionally interfere unlawfully in other’s enjoyment or use of land without being aware of its consequences. Such actions may constitute a nuisance which is not only a crime but also actionable under tort law. For example-
- If you are not able to sleep peacefully due to the daily morning prayers, devotional songs, frequent discourses relayed on the loudspeaker in your locality that you can sue them for private or public nuisance.
- Or say any industrial activity being carried out in a residential area near your house, the smoke or fumes of which cause harm to trees, shrubs, plants of your garden it will be a case of nuisance.
- Your neighbour waters his own garden and everyday spills water over your premises you possess the right to sue him.
- Someone parks his vehicle in a midway without any danger signal or indicator which may cause an inconvenience or obstruction to you, rather than engaging in a dilly-dally with him you can hold him liable.
- A person residing just above your floor in flat everyday throws garbage from above, you can get unliquidated damages for the inconvenience caused.
Whenever we hear the term Assault severe acts such as rape or extreme actions of causing physical hurt comes to our minds. These wrongs, undoubtedly, are assault but there are other simple actions which does not involve actual touching or violence but is enough to cause a reasonable apprehension in the minds of people,. A person while doing such acts may not be aware of it but is can have serious consequences under tort law. Let us see some examples:
- Your friend putting away your chair while you are about to sit (until you reach the floor) is not just a practical joke but an actionable wrong.
- Someone’s attempt to throw water on you is an assault.
- You land yourself into a fight with someone, and he scares you by rolling his sleeve, clenching his fist, threatening to break your neck you can drag him to the court for the tort of assault.
- Pointing a gun, showing up a lathi, threatening to hurt by a kitchen knife, golf club, screwdriver, wrench or a rock, also amounts to an assault.
Every simple action of a person if not done cautiously can land him into a trouble. Someone spits on you and if the spittle hits you, you can sue a person for Battery. Battery can be defined as the direct and an intentional application of force on someone. When assault is actually acted upon, it converts into tort of battery and is actionable under tort law. Some of the similar instances you might encounter are:
- You visit a beauty salon, and the attendant applies a cream or a tone-rose on your skin without your consent, which later produces any adverse reaction on your body you have a right to sue a lady for battery.
- If you suffer harm due to an electric wire placed without any indication and warning to restrict a person from entering, it will constitute battery.
- You are standing in a long queue at a ticket counter, waiting for your turn to come, a person in haste pushes you from back, you can sue him for battery.
We all are customers and our daily purchases affect our lives in some or the other way. What if we fine goods defective which we had spend a penny on due to the negligence of a manufacturer? Not only consumer protections acts protect us against these malpractices but we can also seek remedy under tort law for the liability of defective products.
- No sooner had you bought a cold drink than you find something suspicious inside the bottle that may have posed danger on you anyway, you can hold manufacturer liable for his negligence.
- You have to face an adverse skin reaction by applying a cream or a skin lotion that you recently bought from the nearby cosmetics store, you can sue the manufacturer under the tort law for the annoyance suffered.
- Even you can hold a manufacturer liable if you receive any product defective bought by online shopping, the most popular method of shopping these days.
Trespass to land
Trespass to land is an actionable wrong under tort law which means if anyone interferes with possession of your land without any lawful justification will be held liable. For instance, to throw stones upon neighbour’s land or premises would amount to trespass. Or say-
- If someone grows a plant or a tree on your land or premises that will be a trespass to land
- Anyone enters your house without your permission or uses your premises as a shortcut to go somewhere he’ll be held liable for trespass
- Also, someone’s domestic pet causes you annoyance by frequently entering into your premises, you can sue him for trespass
- An advertisement hoarding just above your terrace which may cause a reasonable disturbance in your enjoyment of the land will also be a trespass to land.
Law not only provides you the opportunity to bring an action against a person who commits wrong to you but also permits you to protect your body or property by what we call self-defence. Law gives you Right to Self-Defence if you face an imminent threat. For example- if a person is about to attack you by say a stick or throwing a stone, you can revert an action by using a reasonable force on him. There are many such defences that law gives you which may prevent you from being sued, you just need to be quite aware of your rights and privileges.
Also, there is a concept of malicious prosecution which enables you to take action against a person who without any probable cause or lawful justification has dragged you in the court of law. You can recover damages from the person if they have involved you in the misuse of the legal process and procedure for improper purposes. So you can even sue for being sued.