The Difference between Torts and Crimes

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Torts & crimes

Difference between torts and crimes in Georgia


What is the difference between a tort and a crime?

To protect citizens, governments pass laws making wrongful acts crimes. A crime can be described as a wrongful act that injures or interferes with the interest of society.


However, many acts that result in harm to others are not crimes. Accidentally hitting another car with your own is not a crime, even though it could cause harm. It is a tort. Generally speaking, a tort is a wrongful act that injures or interferes with an individual's person or property. A tort can be intentional or unintentional (negligence), or it can be a tort of strict liability.


The same act may be both a crime and a tort. In effect, criminal law provides a way of punishing people who commit crimes. It acts to protect all citizens from such wrongdoing. Criminal law is not concerned with the individual victim. The law of torts, on the other hand, provides a way to compensate victims of wrongful acts.


In reality, victims of crimes like burglary, rape, and armed robbery rarely sue the wrongdoers, primarily for practical reasons. For instance, if the wrongdoer has no money or property from which to collect, a lawsuit would accomplish nothing.

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What is a tort?


  • A tort is a wrongful act that injures or interferes with another's person or property. 

  • A tort case is a civil court proceeding. 

  • The accused is the "defendant" and the victim is a "plaintiff." 

  • The charges are brought by the plaintiff.

  •  If the defendant loses, the defendant has to pay damages to the plaintiff.

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What is a crime?


  • A crime is a wrongful act that the state or federal government has identified as a crime. 

  • A criminal case is a criminal proceeding. 

  • The accused is also called a 'defendant". 

  • The victim is the person who has been hurt or the state of Georgia or other governmental entity. 

  • The charges are brought by the government. 

  • If the defendant loses, the defendant must serve a sentence. 

  • A fine is paid to the government and there is possible restitution to the victim.

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What kind of damages can I recover in a tort case?

There are two main categories of damages: actual and punitive.


Actual damages cover the injury or harm suffered. Actual damages include special or compensatory damages and general damages for pain and suffering.

  • Special or compensatory damages repay the injured party for economic loss, including repayment for lost wages and medical bills. These damages must be proven at trial with evidence of certain factors such as days missed at work, earnings per day, amount of medical bills incurred, cost of prescriptions, and amount of damage to property.

  • General damages are damages presumed to have been sustained in an accident.


Punitive damages are the other type of damages. They are awarded in order to punish the defendant and deter others from causing harm in similar ways. These damages are assessed when wrongdoing is aggravated by violence, oppression, malice, fraud, or "wanton or wicked" conduct by the defendant.


There are limits to the amount of punitive damages you can collect.

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What do I need to prove a tort claim?

To win a tort case, you must prove two things:

  1. the defendant committed the tort and 

  2. as a result of the tort, the plaintiff or the plaintiff's property was injured.


You may want to consult a lawyer to help you protect your rights.

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Last Review and Update: Mar 21, 2022
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