The dictionary defines a tort as “a wrongful act or an infringement of a person’s right other than a breach of contract for which relief may be obtained in the form of damages or an injunction”.
From that definition, it is clear that a breach of contract is not a tort.
However, sometimes people confuse breach of contract and tort to be similar because they both entitle the party affected by a breach or tortious act to legal damages.
A breach of contract is defined as “ a violation of an agreement’s terms and conditions for which the non-breaching party can sue for damages”.
If the legal definitions of why a breach of contract is not a tort still confuse you, in the following section, I’ll further explain the difference between the two types of civil law with practical examples.
Contract Law vs Tort Law
The easiest way to differentiate between a breach of contract and a tort is to remember that contract law governs the drafting and enforcement of agreements between parties, while tort law dictates how parties who have not entered into an agreement relate.
For example, if you’re walking down the road and a speeding driver knocks you down, they should compensate you for the injuries caused.
However, the two of you have never met, meaning you don’t have an agreement on how the driver should pay you damages.
In this situation, you’ll use tort laws, which are a set of default rules that outline how a person injured or who incurs losses due to another person’s or entity’s actions or in-actions should be compensated.
To give you another example of a tort case, if you run a business you have a duty of care to your customer.
So, if a customer slips and falls while on your business premises due to a wet floor, or is injured because of using a product you sell, they could file a tort claim against you.
Tort excludes breach of contract because when you enter into a legally binding agreement you most likely agree on what happens should one or all parties fail to honor their obligations as per the contract.
You, therefore, don’t need to use tort laws when seeking damages for a breach of contract.
For example, if you enter into a contract with a transportation company to regularly deliver a shipment of TVs from your warehouse to a distributor in another state and during transport, the TVs screens are damaged you can sue the transporter for breach of contract because they failed to deliver the goods in the condition they picked them as per your agreement.
If you’re unable to resolve the matter between yourselves and it goes to court, the court will first look at your contract to see if you had outlined rules on how compensation is done in the event of a breach of contract and use this to adjudicate the case.
If your contract is silent on whether the transporter is liable for damages that occur during shipping, then tort default laws, which impose a duty of care on all of us, will be used to settle the matter.
Other examples of when a breach of contract could occur include when a party you have signed a contract with fails to complete a job or make payments on time, or does shoddy work.
What is the California Breach of Contract and Tort Statute of Limitations?
In California, you have two years from the time a breach of contract occurs to file a claim against the breaching party if you had an oral contract, and four years if your contract was written.
For a personal injury (tort) case, the time limit is two years from the time the injury happened. If you don’t discover an injury immediately, the deadline for making a tort claim is one year from the date the injury is known.
If your tort case involves a government agency, the statute of limitations goes down to six months, with an exception of one year for some cases.
It is important that you file your breach of contract or tort claim immediately after you suffer losses or are injured because if you make the claim late or after the statute of limitations has lapsed, it is likely that your damages claim will be denied.
What Damages Are Awarded in a Breach of Contract or Tort Claim?
Damages in a tort or breach of contract lawsuit are intended to restore the person who makes the claim to the position they were before a breach or tort occurred.
For a breach of contract, compensation awarded can include compensatory damages, liquidated damages, restitution, and nominal damages.
In a tort case, the injured party can recover the cost of medical bills, lost wages if they had to take time off work due to their injuries, and pain and suffering compensation.
Punitive damages may also be awarded in a breach of contract and tort case. These damages are awarded to punish the party at fault and deter them and others from repeating the act that led to the lawsuit.
Gallagher Krich, APC: Experienced San Diego, CA Attorneys
If you find yourself in a situation where you plan to file a breach of contract or tort claim, it is important that you consult an experienced attorney because the claim process can be complicated.
At Gallagher Krich, APC, we have handled many breach of contract and tort cases, and our over 30-plus years of legal experience enable us to be skillful, professional advocates on behalf of your damages claim.
Call us now at (858) 926-5797 for a free consultation on your breach of contract or tort case with one of our knowledgeable San Diego, CA attorneys.