Are the goals of tort law and criminal law the same?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The goals of these two types of laws are in some ways the same, but they are not identical.

To understand this, let us look at the four objectives of tort law as set out by West's Encyclopedia of American Law (see link below).  Tort law tries to

  1. Compensate victims for the actions or inactions of others.
  2. Shift the cost of injuries to those who inflicted them.
  3. Discourage careless or risky behavior.
  4. Vindicate people's legal rights.

Of these, only #3 is really a goal of criminal law.  For example, in a murder trial, the defendant, if found guilty, is not made to pay the victim's family for what he or she has done.  There is no sense in which the family is being compensated for the wrong done to them.  By contrast, the defendant in a wrongful death tort suit would be assessed damages (if found liable).

This shows that the goals are not exactly the same.  Both seek to protect society by discouraging certain behaviors, but beyond that, criminal law is more concerned with punishment while tort law is more concerned with compensation.

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