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Tort vs. Contract: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 18, 2023
Tort involves a breach of duty causing harm, while a contract is a broken agreement between parties.

Key Differences

A tort is a civil wrong causing harm to someone, whereas a contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties. In a tort, the duty breached is generally imposed by law, whereas in a contract, the duty arises from the promises made by the parties.
Liability in tort is generally based on negligence, intentional harm, or strict liability, requiring no contractual relationship. In contrast, liability in contract arises from a breach of the terms agreed upon by the parties in the contract.
Remedies in tort often include compensatory damages for harm suffered. In contrast, remedies in contract focus on fulfilling the agreement, either through specific performance or monetary damages for breach.
The intent plays a significant role in torts, with intentional torts like assault being treated differently from negligence. In contract law, the focus is more on the intention to create legal relations and the fulfillment of the contractual obligations.
Torts can involve a wide range of issues, from personal injury to defamation. Contract disputes, however, are confined to issues related to the interpretation and fulfillment of the contractual terms agreed upon by the parties.

Comparison Chart


Breach of duty imposed by law.
Breach of agreement between parties.


Negligence, intentional harm.
Breach of agreed terms.


No prior relationship required.
Prior agreement is necessary.


Compensatory damages for harm.
Specific performance or damages.


Harm caused, intent.
Fulfillment of agreement.

Tort and Contract Definitions


A legal wrong leading to civil liability.
Negligence in a car accident is a common tort.


A legally binding agreement between parties.
Signing a lease is entering into a contract.


An act violating someone's rights.
Defamation of character is considered a tort.


A mutual promise enforceable by law.
A job offer acceptance forms a contract.


Basis for a civil lawsuit due to harm.
A slip and fall in a store can lead to a tort claim.


Agreement with specific terms and obligations.
A service contract outlines the duties of each party.


A non-contractual civil wrong.
Trespassing on someone's property is a tort.


A document detailing agreed-upon conditions.
The sales agreement is a contract for property purchase.


Breach of duty not arising from contract.
A doctor's malpractice is a tort.


A formal arrangement between entities.
Two companies may enter into a contract for partnership.


A wrong that is committed by someone who is legally obligated to provide a certain amount of carefulness in behavior to another and that causes injury to that person, who may seek compensation in a civil suit for damages.


An agreement between two or more parties, especially one that is written and enforceable by law.


(law) A wrongful act, whether intentional or negligent, regarded as non-criminal and unrelated to a contract, which causes an injury and can be remedied in civil court, usually through the awarding of damages.


The writing or document containing such an agreement.


(obsolete) An injury or wrong.


The branch of law dealing with formal agreements between parties.


Can torts be intentional?

Yes, torts can be intentional, like assault.

What is a tort?

A legal wrong causing harm, not arising from a contract.

Can a breach of contract be a tort?

In some cases, yes, like fraudulent misrepresentation.

Is a contract always written?

No, contracts can be verbal or implied, but written is preferable for clarity.

Do torts require a pre-existing relationship?

No, torts do not require a pre-existing relationship.

Are all illegal acts torts?

No, some illegal acts are crimes and not torts.

Is consideration necessary for a contract?

Yes, consideration is an essential element of a valid contract.

Can a contract be implied?

Yes, contracts can be implied based on the parties' conduct.

Can a contract be voided?

Yes, under certain conditions like fraud or incapacity.

What's an example of a contract breach?

Not delivering goods as agreed in a sales contract.

Is defamation a tort?

Yes, defamation is a common tort involving harm to reputation.

Can anyone file a tort claim?

Generally, those directly harmed by the tortious act can file a claim.

Are oral contracts enforceable?

Yes, but proving their terms can be challenging.

Can a tort lead to criminal charges?

Some torts, like assault, can also be criminal offenses.

Is negligence always a tort?

Generally, yes, negligence can be a basis for a tort claim.

Can a minor enter into a contract?

Generally, contracts with minors are voidable.

Is emotional distress a tort?

Yes, in some cases, emotional distress can be a basis for a tort claim.

Do torts always result in lawsuits?

Not always, but they provide grounds for civil suits.

What is specific performance in contract law?

It's a remedy requiring the breaching party to fulfill their contractual obligations.

What's the difference in remedies between tort and contract?

Tort remedies focus on compensating harm, while contract remedies aim to enforce the agreement.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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