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Tort law is on your side


We have been looking at the law of tort for a few weeks and you would know that you can bring an action against another if you have suffered losses because of the action of one or more persons. You can recover in the form of damages. Here are some words and terms that you might need to know.

Contributory negligence

This is where the claimant by his own action has contributed to the losses suffered because of his own lack of care. This means that he would not be able to recover the full amount of his losses. The damages would be reduced at the discretion of the court.

Joint tortfeasors

Where two or more persons commit the same wrongful act against the claimant they are known as joint tortfeasors and would be “jointly and severally” liable. This is a term that is used to indicate that the claimant can sue all who contributed to his injury. He can therefore recover the whole amount from one person or all those persons who committed the tort regardless of the contribution.

Even though all persons are sued only one sum is recovered and judgment could be enforced against one or all the tortfeasors to the act. Once the claimant recovers, he cannot sue another person.

Mitigation of loss

A person who suffers because of a tort against him must take reasonable action to mitigate his or her losses. If something could be done to prevent further losses the tortfeasor should do so and not wait to sue for compensation.

Compensatory damages

This is the type of damages you try to recover when a tort act is done against you. Most often it is for money. You would make a claim for damages but it is the court that will award damages after looking at your losses.

Pecuniary damages

Damages that could be calculated in financial terms are regarded as pecuniary damages. For example, if you were in an accident and was injured, you would have to be off from work to recuperate, you would have to be compensated for your earnings, medical and other expenses.

Non-pecuniary damages

This is a legal term. The damages are not easily calculated. A claimant would have to be compensated for pain and suffering and the loss of amenities. Loss of amenities relates to the ability of the claimant to do things he used to do before his personal injuries. Depending on the injuries he might not be able to perform mentally and physically as he did before. In other words it relates to the quality of life a claimant would have after the accident. In some cases it is not only for losses suffered but also for ongoing losses and for future losses. The injury might impact on relations to family, ability to participate in activities or pleasures of life, hearing, sight, impairment of sexual activity, among others. These are also classified as general damages.

Nominal damages

There could be no compensation at all. The court could make an award of nominal damages where there are no actual damages. The rights of the claimant could have been infringed, but there are no damages as in the case of trespass or libel.

Exemplary or punitive damages

The court can award punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. This is where the court shows its disapproval for the defendant’s conduct. It is punishment for the defendant because of his outrageous behaviour. It is also to deter others in the future.