Legal language includes many old-fashioned words that sound strange but have simple meanings. Tortfeasor is one of those words. The tortfeasor in a personal injury case is the person, business or party that caused harm to the victim, whether intentionally or not. The tortfeasor can be held liable for the costs and damages they caused. For most purposes, the tortfeasor is the same thing as the defendant in your case: the party you are seeking a financial recovery from.
What is the origin of “tortfeasor”?
Personal injury law is often referred to as “tort law.” A tort is simply an injury or harm that was done to someone. It comes from an Old French word meaning “wrong.”
Likewise, “feasor” comes from the Old French word fesor which means “doer.” So tortfeasor can be translated as wrongdoer.
This translation shouldn’t be taken too literally, however. Most of the time, defendants in personal injury cases are not criminals or even bad people. They may have caused the injury through negligence—simple carelessness or failure to think through the consequences of their actions (or inaction). Tortfeasors are still liable for the injuries they cause even if they had no ill intent.
Likewise, criminals can also be held accountable as tortfeasors. If someone attacked you and mugged you, for example, they are liable for the cost of your injuries and you can file a personal injury claim against them in addition to pressing criminal charges.
What counts as “tortfeasance” or being a tortfeasor?
In most personal injury cases, whether someone committed a tort (“tortfeasance”) and is liable for the damages comes down to the issue of negligence.
- If the person (or company) did something negligent, and
- Their negligence led to your injury or loss,
- You have a valid tort and they can be held liable.
Let’s use a simple slip and fall case as an example. You walk into a convenience store and end up slipping on a spilled beverage. As you fall, you try to catch yourself with your arm and you twist your elbow, causing a painful injury. Is the convenience store responsible? It depends:
- If you spilled the beverage yourself and then slipped on it, in most cases there is no tort, because the convenient store didn’t act negligently.
- If the spilled beverage was already on the floor when you came in—and the convenience store had made no effort to clean it up, mark it with a cone, or close the aisle—then their lack of care and attention is negligence and it caused your accident. They are a tortfeasor and you have a valid claim.
Can more than one person/business be a tortfeasor in the same case?
Yes. Let’s use a car accident as an example. Let’s say that you’re driving on a highway and a deer suddenly runs across the road in front of your car. You do the right thing and brake, avoiding the deer. The person behind you was following too close, however, and they try to stop but slam into you, injuring you in a rear-end accident. They are at fault in the accident and they are the first tortfeasor in the case.
However, the next car behind them was also following too close, and not only that—they weren’t even paying attention to the road. This third vehicle doesn’t even try to stop, and slams into the car that rear ended you. This second, high-speed collision also contributes to the injuries you have suffered. The driver of this car is the second tortfeasor in your case.
Under Georgia law, you have a right to seek your financial recovery from either or both of the tortfeasors in the case. In practice, your lawyer will first determine how much your injuries and other damages have cost you, and then seek damages from the driver who was most at fault for the accident. If the two drivers share fault, the costs of your recovery may be shared between their insurance policies.
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