Tort law, as applied to auto insurance in the United States, covers the harm that one party visits on another either by intention or by accident, for which legal damages may be sought.
In the US, this will always involve a situation in which the defendant of the lawsuit’s actions was subject to a substantial certainty that they would endanger another party.
So for example; if Dave drives his car at Susan knowing she is there, whether there is any actual malice in his actions or not (he may, for example, intend to scare her out of the way) if he hits Susan – his actions could constitute intentional tort.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means and it depends on the individual circumstances as to whether a tort will be listed as intentional or not. For legal action to be successful under this kind of tort – the injured party would have to prove intent to injure someone or damage their property. It’s rate but not impossible for auto insurance insurers to sue for intentional tort.
Negligent tort applies to those situations in which a lapse in the duty of care an individual has for others and their property causes damage to another party.
Examples of behavior that would lead to this kind of tort; driving under the influence of illegal drugs, prescription drugs (which warn against driving in their usage instructions), driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving, driving without due care and attention, etc.
For another real life example; in this case if David does not see Susan but could be reasonably expected to have done so (she’s standing in plain sight for example) then if he runs into her there is no intent – but David has clearly been negligent in his duty of care to keep a firm eye on the road and any potential hazards.
For US auto insurance this is the most common kind of tort – it’s clear that an accident is most likely to involve some form of contributory negligence for which a party (or parties) to that accident will most likely be held liable in a court of law.
Tort is an important term in US insurance because it the reason through which an insurer can seek compensation from another party that they have had to pay benefits to their policyholders for.
(To read more about the tort system outside of our glossary, please read our more detailed article on the subject.)