Torts, sometimes called delicts, are civil wrongs. To have acted tortiously, one must have breached a duty to another person, or infringed some pre-existing legal right. A simple example might be accidentally hitting someone with a cricket ball. Under the law of negligence, the most common form of tort, the injured party could potentially claim compensation for his injuries from the party responsible. The principles of negligence are illustrated by Donoghue v Stevenson. A friend of Mrs Donoghue ordered an opaque bottle of ginger beer (intended for the consumption of Mrs Donoghue) in a café in Paisley. Having consumed half of it, Mrs Donoghue poured the remainder into a tumbler. The decomposing remains of a snail floated out. She claimed to have suffered from shock, fell ill with gastroenteritis and sued the manufacturer for carelessly allowing the drink to be contaminated. The House of Lords decided that the manufacturer was liable for Mrs Donoghue’s illness. Lord Atkin took a distinctly moral approach, and said,
The liability for negligence … is no doubt based upon a general public sentiment of moral wrongdoing for which the offender must pay … The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question, Who is my neighbour? receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.
This became the basis for the four principles of negligence; (1) Mr Stevenson owed Mrs Donoghue a duty of care to provide safe drinks (2) he breached his duty of care (3) the harm would not have occurred but for his breach and (4) his act was the proximate cause, or not too remote a consequence, of her harm. Another example of tort might be a neighbour making excessively loud noises with machinery on his property. Under a nuisance claim the noise could be stopped. Torts can also involve intentional acts, such as assault, battery or trespass. A better known tort is defamation, which occurs, for example, when a newspaper makes unsupportable allegations that damage a politician’s reputation. More infamous are economic torts, which form the basis of labour law in some countries by making trade unions liable for strikes, when statute does not provide immunity.