Torts v. Crimes

August 5, 2022

By Thomas McCutcheon

Torts are civil, as opposed to criminal, wrongs. Wrongs can be as varied and diverse, as unique and unusual, as a person’s thoughts and actions.

Torts result in lawsuits when someone is careless in doing or failing to do something like yielding the right of way. The injured person sues for a tort.

A crime is a different kind of insult. It is an insult against the state rather than against some other particular person. It is tried in the criminal courts, which are very different than civil courts. Criminal cases have their own rules of procedure, a different burden of proof, and are geared towards making sure that an innocent person is not convicted. A tort and a crime may be the result of the same trauma (a hit, an injury, a blow). Our law, based on Common-law traditions, requires separate trials in separate courts.

Personal injury lawsuits arise from a duty to act or not act in a particular way that causes harm to another person. Those duties arise from common-law ideas of what a reasonable person would do under the same or similar circumstances. Driving the speed limit in fog so thick you can’t see five feet in front of your car is not reasonable. Sure, you’re driving the speed limit, but you can’t see and that’s not reasonable.

Certain automobile accident cases are governed by statute as well. For every 10 mph, there have to be 20 feet of distance between you and the car ahead of you. If there is a rear-end collision that particular statute creates a duty that was breached.

Crimes are statutory in nature. Crimes generally require criminal intent to commit a crime. There are some crimes such as statutory rape that are crimes simply because the Legislature says they are. The age of consent in Alabama is 16 years of age and it doesn’t matter if her mother said she was 25 years old and had a birth certificate to prove it. I do imagine the court would take that into consideration at sentencing though.

Buckle up, drive safely, and as always, your referrals are appreciated!

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