There are basically three types of torts:
- intentional torts;
- negligence; and
- strict liability.
An intentional tort is a civil wrong that occurs when the wrongdoer engages in intentional conduct that results in damages to another. Striking another person in a fight is an intentional act that would be the tort of battery. Striking a person accidentally would not be an intentional tort since there was not intent to strike the person. This may, however, be a negligent act. Careless conduct that results in damage to another is negligence.
Generally, liability because of a tort only arises where the defendant either intended to cause harm to the plaintiff or in situations where the defendant is negligent. However, in some areas, liability can arise even when there is no intention to cause harm or negligence. For example, in most states, when a contractor uses dynamite which causes debris to be thrown onto the land of another and damages the landowner’s house, the landowner may recover damages from the contractor even if the contractor was not negligent and did not intend to cause any harm. This is called strict liability or absolute liability. Basically, society is saying that the activity is so dangerous to the public that there must be liability. However, society is not going so far as to outlaw the activity.
Acme Construction Company was constructing a highway. It was necessary to blast rock with dynamite. The corporation’s employees did this with the greatest of care. In spite of their precautions, some flying fragments of rock damaged a neighboring house. The owner of the house sued the corporation for the damages. The corporation raised the defense that the owner was suing for tort damages and that such damages could not be imposed because the corporation had been free from fault. Was this defense valid? No. While ordinarily fault is the basis of tort liability, there are cases in which absolute liability is imposed on the actor. This means that when harm is caused, it is no defense that none was intended or that due care had been exercised to prevent the harm.
Other examples of absolute liability situations would be harm caused by storage of flammable gas and explosives, crop dusting when the chemical that is used is dangerous, factories which produce dangerous fumes, smoke or soot in populated areas, and the production of nuclear material.