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More Tort Law Versus Criminal Law

More Tort Law Versus Criminal Law

Apart from legislation granting a right to sue for a specific harm, personal injury law generally consists of tort law and the civil procedure for enforcing it. This article discusses some of the distinctions between tort law and criminal law, beyond criminal law’s focus on the criminal and tort law’s focus on the financial harm suffered by the victim.


One difference between criminal law and tort law is the effect or non-effect of condonation. Condonation is encouragement of a person’s conduct, or forgiveness of a person’s conduct, by the person who is the immediate victim.

In criminal law, condonation is usually not a defense. The classic example of condonation not being a defense is easy to understand. Just because a child under the age of consent to sexual intercourse encourages an adult to have sexual intercourse with the child, or forgives the adult for having sexual intercourse with the child, does not prevent the adult from being convicted for the crime of having sexual intercourse with a child below the age of consent.

In criminal law, condonation by the immediate victim is usually irrelevant, because the issue is the alleged criminal’s harm to society, if any. Even though the immediate victim may condone certain criminal conduct, the fact remains that the criminal conduct is criminal. In criminal law, a legal representative of society — an attorney general, district attorney, or prosecutor — brings a legal action against the alleged criminal.

In tort law, condonation of the tortious conduct by the immediate victim is usually a defense. If the immediate victim condones the tortious conduct, either the conduct is not a tort, the tort is negated, or, under the law of standing, no one is left to bring a lawsuit against the person who engaged in the wrongful conduct.

Potential For Future Harm

Criminal law involves conduct that, if left unchecked, would have a great potential for causing harm to many people in the future. Individual crimes can harm an entire community. For example, a person who gets away with one murder may feel free to commit another murder. The likelihood of the person becoming a serial or mass murderer increases dramatically.

Because violations of criminal law have a great potential for future harm, society provides an entire justice system — police, courts, and prisons — to deal with the problem.

Unlike criminal law, tort law only deals with harm caused to a limited number of persons or entities. Torts usually harm only the few persons or entities directly involved. For example, an otherwise careful driver who accidentally runs into your car may harm you, but the otherwise careful driver does not thereby become a greater threat to the entire community. Indeed, after an accident, an otherwise careful driver will probably drive more carefully!

Because violations of tort law do not have the same potential for future harm that violations of criminal law have, society simply provides tort victims with courts and the right to sue.


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