Legal term. A wrongful or injurious act (other than breaking a contract) for which a civil suit may be brought in court by private persons. If the suit is successful, the court may award the victims cash compensation for damages, "punitive" damages above the actual cost of the injury in order to punish the defendent, and/or a court order banning any future repetitions of the kind of behavior giving rise to the suit. For example, a householder might sue the owners of a nearby factory for creating excessive noise or pollution that interferes unreasonably with the householder's health or the peaceful enjoyment of his property. Tort law procedures are thus one of the principal mechanisms for defining and protecting property rights short of evoking criminal law and is an important governmental mechanism for trying to overcome the problem of negative externalities.