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A tort is an act for which the person against whom the act has been performed has a legal right to sue and recover damages. A tort is generally distinguished from a contract action by the lack of an agreement between the parties prior to the commission of the act.

There are a number of categories into which torts are classified, based on the type of injury caused and the level of intent exhibited by the party who caused the injury, known in legal parlance as a tortfeasor.

Among the torts that are generally deemed to require intent, torts against the person include assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress. Torts against property include conversion, trespass to land, and trespass to chattels. Torts against economic or dignitary interests include various forms of fraud, defamation (which may be further divided into slander and libel), invasion of privacy, and tortious interference of several kinds. In some jurisdictions, defamation may not require intentional wrongdoing.

Another major area of tort law is negligence. While the vast majority of negligence cases involve acts by a party which caused direct physical injury to another, causes of action also exist for negligent infliction of emotional distress, and liability may be imposed on a business for the negligent hiring, retention, or supervision of an employee who causes intentional harm.

A final area of tort law is strict liability torts. This covers activities which are so dangerous that a person who is injured from them has a right to recover irrespective of the level of care taken by the tortfeasor. To date these have been adjudicated to include the handling of wild animals, use of explosives, use of poisonous materials, and use of radiation. A related area of products liability imposes liability on all parties in the chain of distribution of defective products.

Additional torts may be created by statute. For example, United States law has established a number of bases for a wrongful termination cause of action, including termination based on race, gender, or religion, or based on the injured party's attempt to assert protected rights.

There is a certain amount of coincidence between torts and crimes. Torts involving the infliction of intentional physical injury on a party are usually crimes as well. However, some tortious acts, such as invasion of privacy, are not criminal at all, while some crimes, such as speeding or prostitution, are not considered tortious. Although recovery is permitted for a wrongful death, there is no specific tort for murder, nor for rape. Each of these is considered a form of battery or assault and battery, although the jury may take into account the specific kinds of acts perpetrated by the tortfeasor in determing what damages to award.