How does tort law differ from criminal law?

Tort law differs from criminal law in several ways. Tort law is a form of civil law instead of criminal law. Criminal law serves the purpose of society at large, as criminal suits are brought by prosecutors on behalf of the state or the federal government. Tort suits generally are filed by private parties.

The fundamental purpose of criminal law is to punish those individuals who commit crimes. In contrast, the basic purpose of tort law is to compensate individuals for the harm that they have suffered.

Another major difference between tort and criminal law concerns the burden of proof. Criminal cases require the prosecution to prove its case by a very high standard called beyond a reasonable doubt. This requires almost absolute certainty by the jury (or judge) that the criminal defendant committed the unlawful act for which he is charged. Tort suits require the plaintiff to prove his case by preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not.