A tortfeasor is a person who commits a tort. A tort is a legal term used to describe a civil wrong. This means a tortfeasor commits an action that violates a legal duty and he is sued for this action.
In the United States, there is a criminal court system and a civil court system. If a person commits a crime set forth in the penal code, he is prosecuted in criminal court and faces criminal penalties. Only a federal or state prosecutor can charge a person with a crime or prosecute someone in criminal court.
Civil court, on the other hand, allows citizens to settle grievances with each other. Within the United States, people owe each other a certain duty of care. Under this duty, a person is not permitted to intentionally or negligently cause harm to someone else, or to someone else's property.
If a person violates his duty of care, and hurts someone else or damages someone else's property, he is a tortfeasor. The intentional or negligent action that caused the injury is the tort he committed. The victim of the intentional act or the negligent act can sue him in civil court.
The potential penalties for committing a tort differ from criminal penalties. When a person is sued in civil court, he or she can be made to pay a monetary fine, called damages. He cannot be sent to prison or subject to other criminal sanctions, unless he is also prosecuted in criminal court.
A tortfeasor who is found guilty may be required to pay actual damages. For example, if a driver negligently runs someone over with a car, the driver may be be required to pay medical bills. He also may be required to pay lost wages, car repair bills, or any other costs necessary to restore the victim to the state he would have been in, but for the accident.
A tortfeasor may also be required to pay punitive damages. This means that if someone acts egregiously and harms another person, the perpetrator of the harm may be punished in civil court with a hefty fine not specifically related to the actual value of the monetary damages. This is more common in cases of intentional torts, or behavior that is so negligent that someone was sure to get hurt.
The standards of proof in civil court are also different than in criminal court. The victim of a tort must prove only that a preponderance of evidence suggests the perpetrator committed the tort. In criminal court, guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.