Tort (Lat. tortus, from torquere, to twist), in law, a private or civil wrong or injury, in contradistinction from a crime against the public or the state, but not technically including breaches of contract or other agreements. Torts are injuries or infringements of the civil rights that belong to individuals considered merely as individuals, while crimes are wrongs which affect the community and so invade and violate the rights of society. The distinction between private injuries and' public wrongs seems to be much dependent on the constitution and positive laws of civil society. So long as the harm done by an offence is limited to the single individual against whom it was directed, the offender commits only a private injury or a tort; but if the act, though immediately concerning an individual, disturbs the public order or safety and welfare, then the positive law interposes and elevates the hitherto private offence to the degree of a crime or of a misdemeanor. In some cases the injury may be both public and private, or at once a tort and a crime or misdemeanor. For example, the commission of a battery subjects the aggressor to a public prosecution as a disturber of the peace, while the party beaten may have his separate civil action for damages.

Libel and nuisance are other examples of this twofold character. - As wrongs are privations or infringements of rights, so torts, being private wrongs, are infringements of private rights, or the rights of individuals. These rights respect either the person or the property. In the former class is included the right of personal security, in respect as well to the body as to the health and the reputation, and the violations of this right in one or other of these respects bear the names battery, assault, nuisance, slander, libel, and malicious prosecution. In this class is included also the right of personal liberty, which is violated by false imprisonment. Rights of property, real or personal, may be infringed by trespasses in various degrees by waste, conversion, and fraud, and the more incorporeal of these rights by nuisance and by infringement of patents and copyrights and rights in trade marks. These several names of torts have been applied by long usage of the law to prescribed and well determined offences.

But besides these there are many torts not specifically designated or classed, because they do not affect well defined classes of rights, but vary with the peculiar circumstances of every case. - When one alleges that a tort has been committed against him, he must show at all events that he has been wronged. The mere fact that the act complained of has injured the plaintiff, does not entitle him to claim indemnity unless the act was also a breach of a legal obligation between the parties, resting either on their express agreement, or on the general policy and rules of the law. If, for example, my neighbor builds a wall just before windows of mine, to which it is conceded I have no prescriptive right as ancient lights; or if in a street occupied by private and costly dwellings my neighbor chooses to use his house for a shop, or convert it to other uses offensive to me and yet constitnting no nuisance : in neither case have I ground for action, however considerable the actual injury or damage may be to me. The reason is, that I have not been wronged; it is a case of what the law calls damnum absque injuria., damage but no wrong; no legal right of mine has been violated.

But every legal wrong imports damage in the very nature of it; and if no other damage is established, the party is entitled to nominal damage. To use Sir John Holt's quaint and familiar illustration : "If a man give another a cuff on the ear, though it cost him nothing, nay, not so much as a little diachylon, yet he shall have his action.'" It is on this principle that, without proving any actual damage, one who has a right of way may maintain an action against an intruder, or one whose lands are flowed against him who constructs a dam so as to set back the water. So a voter can sustain suit against the authorities for refusing his ballot, even though his candidate was elected. These are cases of legal wrongs, infringement of legal rights; and even if no actual damage be proved, the injury or damage is the presumption of the law. To this class also belong those cases of torts in which the legal wrong consists in the doing of a mischievous act which is only likely to prove injurious to others, or even in the doing of a legal act in such a careless or negligent manner that injury may probably result; for carelessness of the rights of others is in itself morally wrong, and by the construction of law is legally wrong when injury results from it. - The commonest form of a tortious intrusion upon real property is called trespass quare clamum fregit, or for breaking and entering upon the plaintiff's close.

A higher offence against a person, in respect to his property, than mere encroachment on his possession, is that which consists in a usurpation of the property itself. An injury of this nature is most likely to happen in respect to personal property, and one of the most frequent actions for torts of this nature is that of trover. One may be further injured in his rights of property by the effect of threats, mistake, or fraud. In the last respect, for example, an action lies when one knowingly utters a falsehood to the plaintiff with the design to deprive him of a benefit and to acquire it to himself, and damage naturally results from the plaintiff's belief. But it is not always necessary to show that the defendant intended to defraud the plaintiff particularly. Thus one who makes a false recommendation of another, representing him to be solvent and trustworthy, and with the purpose of obtaining credit for him, is liable to any one who gives credit to the report and thereby suffers injury. The tort of nuisance consists in injury to the more natural rights of individuals, and the tort of infringement of patent and copyrights and rights to trade marks violates rights created and assured by the positive law. - In our examination of torts we have thus far considered persons only in their natural capacity.

It is obvious that new rights arise and new wrongs become possible when the individual is clothed with an artificial character; when, for example, he becomes a sheriff, a magistrate, or other public officer. The new functions with which he is invested give him capacity for doing official wrongs; and these, as they affect private individuals, form new classes of torts. - A corporation is liable like an individual for its torts, and it is liable for the wrongful acts of its officers, either where they are expressly authorized to do the acts, or where they were done bona fide in pursuance of a general authority. But, generally speaking, it cannot be held for any offences by its servants that are properly, in any case, only personal acts, like malicious prosecution, slander, or false imprisonment. But a corporation has been held responsible for an assault and battery committed by a servant acting under its authority. Municipal corporations are liable in tort for the same acts that would warrant an action against individuals, if such acts are done by the authority of the corporation or of a branch or bureau of its government, authorized to act in the premises to which the particular act relates.

Thus they must answer for nuisances on their lands, and they are generally held liable for injuries resulting from the want of care or skill on the part of a public surveyor, from the careless performance of street grading, from neglect to repair streets, sewers, and drains, or from the fury of a mob. The civil liability of municipal corporations for injuries sustained by defects in the highway is generally determined by express statutes. - For the various kinds of torts, and of actions for tort, see Assault, Attachment, Copyright, Execution, Libel, Master and Servant, Nuisance, Patents, Sheriff, Slander, Trade Mark, Trespass, and Trover.