The law and its many jargons throw people off quite often when trying to differentiate wrongful acts and their possible consequences. In this article, two of the most confusing parts of the law, tort law and criminal law, are discussed in detail to help you distinguish one from the other.

But first, let’s get a general idea of each:

  • A Crime: this is an illegal act that affects society and falls under provincial or federal statutes.

  • A Tort: this is a wrongful act that breaches another person’s civil rights and falls under civil law. It interferes with another person or their property.

With that general definition in mind, we can dive into more details. This will make it easier for you to differentiate torts and crimes and avoid overlapping one with the other.

Ready? Time to dig deeper…

Table of Content

What is a Tort?

Tort comes from the Latin word “tortum,” which means “something crooked or wrong.”

A tort is an act or omission that causes injury or harm to another party. Another definition of tort is a wrongful act that results from a breach of duty of care causing direct damage to a person or his property.

Tort cases are normally tried in civil courts where the plaintiff (victim) sues the liable party (defendant) for damages. In other words, the injured party brings a case against the negligent party and, if they win, receives monetary compensation or other forms of remedy. Tort Law provides a way to compensate victims of other people’s carelessness.

There are many types of torts, but they can be broadly classified into two:

  1. Intentional Torts

An intentional tort is a wrongful act that one plans and executes deliberately, i.e., you’re fully aware of your actions. This is where most people get a little confused about whether a wrongful act is a crime or tort. Why? Because intentional torts mostly occur due to criminal activity and may also be charged as crimes. Examples include battery, assault, infliction of emotional distress, fraud and defamation.

As noted, many intentional torts are also criminal acts. Whether the perpetrator was found guilty of the crime or not, the victim can still sue them under civil law for damages.

  1. Unintentional Torts

Unintentional torts involve unreasonable or inadvertent behaviour from one party that causes harm to another. They are also referred to as incidental or negligent torts. Unintentional torts are based around negligence, where the defendant owes the victim a duty of care, which they fail to meet, leading to tangible harm.

Some examples of unintentional torts include car accidents, slips and fall accidents, dog bites, and medical malpractice.

What is a Crime?

The lucid definition of a crime is any illegal act that is not civil/personal. It’s a wrongful act against society at large.

A society is normally governed by laws set and passed by the provincial or federal governments to protect its members. These laws prohibit certain acts and provide specific punishments for anyone who breaks them.

Therefore, a crime can be further defined as an act against the laws set to protect society. Although a crime may have individual victims, criminal law focuses on the perpetrator and the punishment/ sentence they should receive, as the existing laws provide. However, if the actions of the perpetrator (defendant) cause damage to another party (plaintiff), they can be prosecuted criminally and held liable civilly.

Crimes involve a wider scale of damage compared to tort law. This is why criminal acts carry severe punishments, including incarceration, as they deliberately content the laws set to protect society and maintain peace.

Examples of criminal acts include:

The Main Differences Between Torts Vs Crimes

Looking for an easy way to distinguish a crime and a tort? From the above description of torts and crimes and our experience as criminal defence lawyers in Ontario, we can provide you with an easy method to differentiate the two entities of law.

  1. Who was it against?

  • A wrongful act against an individual or his property is a TORT. It involves the violation of their civil rights.

  • A wrongful act that affects an individual and the entire society is a crime. Crimes are forbidden to protect society and maintain peace.

  1. Was the act intentional?

  • A tort can be intentional or unintentional, i.e., the defendant may have intended to cause harm (assault), or it was an accident (car accident).

  • A crime is always deliberate. The defendant goes against the established laws willingly.

  1. What’s the effect on society?

  • A tort affects the well-being of an individual.

  • A crime has a greater impact on society.

  • It’s important to note that the effects of crimes and torts are always negative.

  1. What is the remedy?

  • In torts, the remedy is compensation. The aggrieved party is compensated for the damage done by the defendant.

  • In crimes, the remedy is in the form of punishment. The defendant is penalized according to criminal law, which provides a specific remedy for the offence committed. Some of the penalties include imprisonment, fines, and probation.

The Overlap Between Criminal and Tort Law

Criminal law and tort law tend to overlap. This happens because some wrongdoings can be classified as both torts and crimes. For example, assault is a crime (there are laws against assault) and a tort (infringement of personal rights).

Another overlap is where a crime leads to a tort. For example, you’re driving home right after having way too many tots of some tempting bourbon due to a stressful day at work. You hit a motorcycle, damage it, and cause injuries to the rider. In this situation, the crime is drinking and driving, and the tort is the injury sustained by the motorist.

Need Help with Your Case? Contact Our Criminal Defence Firm!

When facing criminal charges, every step you take determines the outcome. One of the most important steps in fighting your allegations is retaining a criminal defence lawyer with the experience and knowledge you require for the best outcome possible.

Jeffrey Reisman is a reputable lawyer with over 2 decades of experience representing persons facing a wide range of criminal charges. If you’re in trouble with the law, Reisman can guide you.