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Difference Between Contract and Tort

In the world of law, lawyers, attorneys, and the courts’ system, you can never understand about 100 per cent of everything said. Unless you are one of the above mentioned, you would only get assistance if you have a “learned friend” as an attorney. Consisting of strong internal and borrowed words, you will have to be a judge or attorney to understand most of the jargons they use.

For most people, having been caught in a classic dilemma of responding to a suit where they rarely understand the terms spoken is the most dreaded thing. It would come out as the biggest shock for a layman to be told they are being charged under contract or tort law. Nevertheless, this post seeks to cover the differences between the two words and would come in as a savior to many who would otherwise be wondering what they are and whether they mean the same.

The idea of the post is finding and drawing the sharpest distinction between contract and tort. While the main difference regarding how the contractual obligations are assumed would be an easy one, much needs to be dug. Read through.


What is Contract?

The term contract is used to refer to a promise or a set of the same that can be enforced legally if any of the parties involved violates them. The promises are enforceable if the injured or affected party is allowed to access legal remedies. The Anglo-American common law provides that a contract can be entered if there exists an offer, acceptance of the offer, considerations, as well as mutual agreements for each party to be bound by the contract.

As for the contract law, it is mainly applied to recognize and govern the rights as well as duties that arise from agreements or contracts entered by parties.

Most contracts require formalities, for example, signing and entering a date when the contract was signed. However, some contracts can be binding even if they are oral.


What is Tort?

The dictionary’s definition of the word tort is “any wrongful act that leads to legal liability”. It also means an act that infringes on one’s rights other than when it’s under a contract.

Per common legal jurisdictions, a tort is considered civil wrongdoing that is expected to or believed to have caused the claimant harm or loss. In the end, the act results in legal liabilities leveled against the wrongdoer.


Possible Similarities Between Contract and Tort

The main similarity is that both contract and tort laws are meant to deal with any breaches of duties by a party. The two laws usually apply if the breaches result in losses or injuries to any of the parties involved.

Also, each branch of law seeks to get justice to the victim who suffers the damages in question.


Differences Between Contract and Tort

The main differences between contract and tort are as expounded below:

  1. Meaning of Contract and Tort

A contract means a promise or set of promises that the law can or will enforce if any eventuality arises while tort means a collection of legal remedies that entitle an affected party to recover from losses, injuries, or damages. Tort covers such damages that may have been as a result of omissions, actions, or statements made by another party in such a way that it was regarded as a breach of their duty or obligation.

  1. Rights

In contract law, the obligations, as well as rights, are as a result of the acts of agreement among the parties involved while in tort, the court usually creates the obligations and rights and applies the common law.

  1. Duties

In contract law, the parties chiefly determine the duties while in tort, the law determines the duties. This means that the parties can decide to be or not be bound under the contract, but they cannot choose whether they will be bound under the law or not.

Also, duties in contract are commonly towards definite or specific persons while duties in tort are generally owed to persons or community at large.

  1. Minors

A minor can be made liable for their torts, but they are limited in liability when it comes to contract. This means the minor can be sued under torts and the damages will be paid from their property.

  1. Privity

In tort, privity does not exist nor is it needed because harm is always done against the injured party’s will. On the contract’s side, privity must exist which means the parties involved have to be legally bound to each other.

  1. Motive

Tort law takes the motive into consideration while contract law takes the motive of the breach to be immaterial.

  1. Damages

Tort laws award damages as either real, contemptuous, or exemplary unliquidated while contract laws award liquidated damages. Contract law rarely awards exemplary damages.

  1. Limitation Period

In torts, the limitation period will run from the time the damage was done while in contract, the period runs from the day date the contract was breached.

Contract Vs. Tort: Comparison Table


Summary of Contract Vs. Tort

The major interrelationships between contract law and tort laws are based on how the damages are evaluated and awarded. In addition, there are other distinctions based on the rights and obligations, presence and absence of privity, the duties of each party, as well as how both laws treat minors. All in all, the two are laws and can be tied together based on the terms, how the damages were done, and anything else at the court’s discretion.


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  1. Hi Sarah,
    Regarding privity, there is inconsistency between the table and the text. One of them needs correction.
    Regards, Barry

  2. In the notes above and the comparison table, there is inconsistency, the notes says that In tort, privity does not exist nor is it needed because harm is always done against the injured party’s will. On the contract’s side, privity must exist which means the parties involved have to be legally bound to each other. The table says the opposite. otherwise the article is well articulated.

  3. Please did you say motive is necessary in tort law. I thought motive usually isn’t necessary

  4. Can I get table with difference between a law of tort and law of contract

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References :

[0]Image credit: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/legal/images/tort-law.jpg

[1]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ContractLaw.jpg

[2]"Contract Vs Tort - Designing Buildings Wiki". Designingbuildings.Co.Uk, 2019, https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Contract_vs_tort.

[3]Notes, SRD. "Distinction/ Difference Between Tort And Contract". Srdlawnotes.Com, 2019, https://www.srdlawnotes.com/2016/12/distinction-difference-between-tort-and.html.

[4]Tipton, Sarah. "Contract And Tort Law | Legalmatch Law Library". Legalmatch.Com, 2019, https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/contract-and-tort-law.html.

[5]"What Are The Differences Between 'Contract' And 'Tort'? - Essay UK Free Essay Database". Essay UK Free Essay Database, 2019, http://www.essay.uk.com/essays/law/what-are-the-differences-between-contract-and-tort/.

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