Some General Conditions in Torts Law of Torts
1. Act And Omission- To constitute a tort there must be a wrongful act, whether of omission or commission, but not such acts as are beyond human control and as are entertained only in thoughts. An omission is generally not actionable but it is so exceptionally.
Where there is a duty to act an omission may create liability. A failure to rescue a drowning child is not actionable, but it is so where the child is one’s own. A person who voluntarily commences rescue cannot leave it half the way. A person may be under duty to control natural happenings to his own land so as to prevent them from encroaching others’ land.
2. Voluntary and Involuntary Acts- a voluntary act has to be distinguished from an involuntary act because the former may involve liability and the latter may not. A self willed act like an encroachment fro business, is voluntary, but an encroachment for survival may be involuntary. The wrongfulness of the act and the liability for it depends upon legal appreciation of the surrounding circumstances.
3. Malice- malice is not essential to the maintenance of an action for tort. It is of two kinds, ‘express malice’ (or malice in fact or actual malice) and ‘malice in law’ (or implied malice). The first is what is called malice in common acceptance and means ill will against a person; the second means a wrongful act done intentionally without just cause or excuse.
Where a man has a right to do an act, it is not possible to make his exercise of such right actionable by alleging or proving that his motive in the exercise was spite or malice in the popular sense. An act, not otherwise unlawful, cannot generally be made actionable by an averment that it was done with evil motive. A malicious motive per se does not amount to injuria or legal wrong.
Wrongful acts of which malice is an essential element are:
- Malicious prosecution,
- Willful and malicious damage to property,
- Maintenance, and
- Slander of title.
4. Intention, motive, negligence and recklessness– The obligation to make reparation for damage caused by a wrongful act arises from the fault and not from the intention. Any invasion of the civil rights of another person is in itself a legal wrong, carrying with it liability to repair it necessary or natural consequences, in so far as these are injurious to the person whose right is infringed, whether the motive which prompted it be good, bad or indifferent.
A thing which is not a legal injury or wrong is not made actionable by being done with a bad intent. It is no defence to an action in tort for the wrong doer to plead that he did not intend to cause damage, if damage has resulted owing to an act or omission on his part which is actively or passively the effect of his volition.
A want of knowledge of the illegality of his act or omission affords no excuse, except where fraud or malice is the essence of that act or omission.
For every man is presumed to intend and to know the natural and ordinary consequences of his acts. This presumption is not rebutted merely by proof that he did not think of the consequences or hoped or expected that they would not follow. The defendant will be liable for the natural and necessary consequences of his act, whether he in fact contemplated them or not.
5. Malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance- the term ‘malfeasance’ applies to the commission of an unlawful act. It is generally applicable to those unlawful acts, such as trespass, which are actionable per se and do not require proof of negligence or malice. The term ‘misfeasance’ is applicable to improper performance of some lawful act. The term ‘non-feasance’ applies to the failure or omission to perform some act which there is an obligation to perform.
6. Fault- liability for tort generally depends upon something done by a man which can be regarded as a fault fro the reason that it violates another man’s right. But liability may also arise without fault. Such liability is known as absolute or strict liability. An important example is the rule in Rylands v. Fletcher thus the two extremes of the law of tort are of non liability even where there is fault or liability without fault.
Between these two extremes is the variety of intentional and negligent wrongs to the question whether there is any consistent theory of liability, all that can be said is that it wholly depends upon flexible public policy, which in turn is a reflection of the compelling social needs of the time.
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