Define: Civil Wrong

Civil Wrong
Civil Wrong
Quick Summary of Civil Wrong

A civil wrong, also known as a tort, refers to a harmful act or omission that causes injury, loss, or harm to another person or their property, resulting in legal liability for the wrongdoer. Unlike criminal wrongs, which are prosecuted by the state and may result in punishment such as fines or imprisonment, civil wrongs are addressed through civil lawsuits filed by the injured party seeking compensation for damages. Civil wrongs encompass a wide range of conduct, including negligence, intentional wrongdoing (such as assault or defamation), strict liability (such as liability for defective products), and violations of rights protected by law. The aim of civil litigation is to provide redress for the victim, deter future wrongful conduct, and promote accountability and fairness in society.

What is the dictionary definition of Civil Wrong?
Dictionary Definition of Civil Wrong

A civil wrong refers to a legal term used to describe a wrongful act that causes harm or injury to another person or their property. This can include actions such as negligence, defamation, or breach of contract. In civil law, the injured party may seek compensation for the harm caused by the civil wrong through a civil lawsuit.

an infringement of a person’s rights, especially a tort.

A civil wrong is a cause of action under the law of the governing body. Tort, breach of contract, and breach of trust are types of civil wrongs. Something that amounts to a civil wrong is said to be wrongful. A wrong involves the violation of a right because wrong and right are complementary terms.

Full Definition Of Civil Wrong

Civil wrongs, also known as torts, are breaches of civil duty that cause harm or loss to individuals or entities. Unlike criminal wrongs, which involve breaches against the state and are punishable by the state, civil wrongs primarily concern the rights and obligations between private parties. The law of torts is designed to provide remedies to those who have suffered harm due to the wrongful acts of others. This overview will explore the various aspects of civil wrongs within British civil law, including their nature, categories, and the legal principles governing them.

Nature of Civil Wrongs

Civil wrongs are founded on the principle that individuals are entitled to enjoy their rights without unjust interference from others. When a person’s actions infringe on another’s rights, the law provides mechanisms to redress the harm caused. The fundamental purpose of tort law is to restore the injured party, as far as possible, to the position they were in before the wrong occurred. This is typically achieved through monetary compensation, though other remedies such as injunctions may also be available.

Categories of Civil Wrongs

Civil wrongs can be broadly categorized into intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability torts. Each category encompasses various specific torts that address different kinds of wrongful conduct.

Intentional Torts

Intentional torts occur when a person deliberately engages in conduct that causes harm to another. Some common intentional torts include:

  • Assault and Battery: Assault involves the threat of imminent harm, while battery refers to the actual infliction of unlawful physical contact.
  • False Imprisonment: This tort occurs when a person is unlawfully restrained against their will.
  • Trespass: Trespass to land involves unlawful entry onto another’s property, while trespass to chattels involves interfering with another’s personal property.
  • Defamation: Defamation encompasses libel (written statements) and slander (spoken statements) that harm a person’s reputation.
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: This tort covers conduct that is so outrageous that it causes severe emotional distress to the victim.


Negligence is perhaps the most prevalent type of civil wrong. It arises when a person fails to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm to another. The key elements of negligence are:

  • Duty of Care: The defendant must owe a duty of care to the claimant.
  • Breach of Duty: The defendant must breach that duty by failing to act as a reasonable person would.
  • Causation: The breach of duty must cause harm to the claimant.
  • Damage: The claimant must suffer actual harm or loss as a result.

The landmark case of Donoghue v Stevenson (1932) established the modern principles of negligence in British law, introducing the “neighbour principle,” which posits that individuals owe a duty of care to those who are foreseeably affected by their actions.

Strict Liability Torts

Strict liability torts do not require proof of the defendant’s intent or negligence. Instead, liability is imposed simply because the defendant engaged in certain activities. Key examples include:

  • Product Liability: Manufacturers and suppliers can be held strictly liable for defective products that cause harm.
  • Animal Liability: Owners of certain animals can be held strictly liable for damage caused by their animals.
  • Rylands v Fletcher Liability: This principle holds that a person who keeps hazardous materials on their land is strictly liable for any damage that occurs if those materials escape.

Defences to Civil Wrongs

Defendants in tort cases can invoke several defences to mitigate or negate liability. Some common defences include:


If the claimant consented to the defendant’s conduct, this can serve as a defence. For example, in sports, players consent to a certain level of physical contact, which may preclude claims for battery.

Contributory Negligence

If the claimant’s own negligence contributed to their harm, their compensation may be reduced proportionately. This defence recognises that the claimant bears some responsibility for their injury.

Volenti Non Fit Injuria

This Latin phrase translates to “to a willing person, no harm is done.” It applies when the claimant voluntarily assumes the risk of harm, thereby absolving the defendant of liability.


If the claimant was engaged in illegal activity at the time of the harm, they may be barred from recovering damages. This defence is based on the principle that the law should not assist those who partake in unlawful acts.


Necessity can be a defence when the defendant’s conduct was necessary to prevent greater harm. For example, breaking into a burning building to save lives may be justified under this defence.

Remedies for Civil Wrongs

The primary remedy for civil wrongs is monetary compensation, known as damages. Damages are intended to compensate the claimant for their loss and may include:

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are designed to restore the claimant to their pre-injury position. They can cover:

  • Special Damages: These are quantifiable monetary losses, such as medical expenses and lost wages.
  • General Damages: These cover non-monetary losses, such as pain and suffering and loss of amenity.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct and deter similar behaviour in the future. They are less common in British law compared to some other jurisdictions, such as the United States.


Injunctions are court orders that require the defendant to do or refrain from doing something. They can be:

  • Prohibitory Injunctions: Preventing the defendant from continuing a wrongful act.
  • Mandatory Injunctions: Requiring the defendant to take specific action to remedy a wrong.

Specific Performance

Specific performance is an equitable remedy that compels the defendant to perform their contractual obligations. It is typically used in contract law but can intersect with tort law in cases involving breaches that also constitute torts.

Tort Law and Human Rights

The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into British law, impacting tort law in various ways. Claimants may invoke ECHR rights in tort cases, particularly where state action or public authorities are involved. Key rights relevant to tort law include:

  • Right to Privacy (Article 8): Cases involving defamation, breach of confidence, and misuse of private information often engage Article 8 rights.
  • Right to a Fair Trial (Article 6): Ensuring that tort proceedings are conducted fairly and justly.
  • Right to Freedom of Expression (Article 10): Balancing this right with claims of defamation and privacy.

The interplay between tort law and human rights underscores the evolving nature of civil wrongs and the need to protect individual rights within the framework of tortious liability.


Civil wrongs are a fundamental component of British civil law, providing a means for individuals to seek redress for harm caused by the wrongful acts of others. Through a combination of intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability, the law addresses a wide array of wrongful conduct, ensuring that victims can obtain compensation and justice. Defences to tort claims and the range of available remedies reflect the nuanced and balanced approach of the legal system in adjudicating civil wrongs. As society evolves, so too does tort law, continually adapting to protect individual rights and uphold principles of fairness and justice.

Civil Wrong FAQ'S

Civil wrongs, also known as civil torts, refer to wrongful acts or omissions that result in harm or injury to another person or their property, giving rise to a legal claim for compensation or damages in civil court.

Common examples of civil wrongs include:

  • Negligence causing personal injury or property damage.
  • Intentional torts such as assault, battery, or defamation.
  • Nuisance, trespass, or interference with property rights.
  • Breach of contract or fiduciary duty.
  • Product liability for defective products causing harm.

Civil wrongs are private disputes between individuals or entities seeking compensation for harm suffered, whereas criminal offences are violations of public laws punishable by the state through fines, imprisonment, or other penalties.

burden of proof in civil wrongs cases?

In civil wrong cases, the burden of proof is typically lower than in criminal cases and requires the plaintiff to establish their claim by a preponderance of the evidence, showing that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused harm.

While civil wrongs and criminal offences can arise from the same conduct, they are separate legal proceedings. Conduct that constitutes a civil wrong may also be subject to criminal prosecution if it violates criminal laws, but the outcomes and penalties differ.

Remedies for civil wrongs may include:

  • Compensatory damages for actual losses or injuries.
  • Punitive damages to punish the defendant for intentional or reckless conduct.
  • Injunctive relief to stop ongoing harm or enforce contractual obligations.
  • Specific performance is required to compel the performance of contractual obligations.
  • Restitution to restore the plaintiff to their previous position.

The statute of limitations varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of civil wrong. It sets the time limit within which a plaintiff must file a lawsuit after the cause of action accrues, typically ranging from one to several years.

Yes, civil wrong claims can be resolved through negotiated settlements between the parties, where the defendant agrees to compensate the plaintiff in exchange for releasing them from further liability, avoiding the need for litigation.

While individuals can pursue civil wrong claims without legal representation, consulting with a qualified attorney specialising in tort law can provide valuable advice, advocacy, and representation to help maximise recovery and protect legal rights.

The main difference is that a civil wrong is a private matter between individuals, where the injured party seeks compensation for damages. In contrast, a criminal offense is a violation of public law and is prosecuted by the government, with potential penalties including fines, probation, or imprisonment.

Common types of civil wrongs include personal injury claims, product liability cases, medical malpractice, premises liability, and defamation. Each type has its own specific elements and legal requirements.

To prove a civil wrong, you generally need to establish four elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages. This requires showing that the defendant owed you a duty of care, failed to meet that duty, their actions caused your harm, and you suffered actual damages as a result.

Yes, you can sue for a civil wrong even if you didn’t suffer physical injuries. Many civil wrongs, such as defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress, focus on harm to reputation or emotional well-being rather than physical harm.

The statute of limitations varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of civil wrong. It is important to consult with an attorney to determine the specific time limit for filing your claim, as missing the deadline can result in your case being dismissed.

The damages you can recover in a civil wrongs case depend on the specific circumstances and the laws of your jurisdiction. Generally, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, and, in some cases, punitive damages.

liable for a civil wrong if I didn't intend to cause harm?

Yes, in some cases, you can be held liable for a civil wrong even if you didn’t intend to cause harm. Negligence, for example, involves failing to exercise reasonable care, and you can be held responsible for damages resulting from your negligent actions or omissions.

While it is not mandatory to have an attorney, it is highly recommended to consult with one if you are considering pursuing a civil wrong claim. An attorney can provide guidance, assess the strength of your case, negotiate on your behalf, and represent you in court if necessary.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 7th June 2024.

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