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What Are Intentional Torts?

Intentional torts are wrongful acts done on purpose. The person does not need to actually mean harm, but someone else may end up hurt anyway, such as in a prank. Or, the person can definitely mean harm, such as in domestic violence cases.

What Is a Tort?

A "tort" is some kind of wrongful act that causes harm to someone else. This definition covers a wide range of actions, and the legal field of torts is split up into many different subcategories.

One of the ways torts are split up is by the mental state of the person that does the wrongdoing; for instance, torts often are caused by someone's negligence. When the person that acts wrongly actually intends to perform the action, it becomes what is known as an "intentional tort."

Intentional Tort Example

The easiest example of an intentional tort is a punch to the face, which is referred to as "battery." In this case:

  1. The person intended to make a fist and slam it into the victim's face
  2. The person also intended to harm the victim

This law can be tricky, however. Sometimes the person who performs an intentional tort did not intend the harm. For example, if you surprise-prank someone with an unstable heart condition and the fright causes that person to have a heart attack, you may have committed an intentional tort even if you did not intend to scare that person into a heart attack. Here, while you may not have been aware of the person's heart condition, you maintained an intent to carry out the prank.

Common Intentional Torts

Intentional torts are a wrongful act that someone plans, carries out, and is fully aware of their actions. Since many of these acts also may be charged as crimes, you may notice some similarities. For instance, the family of a murder victim may sue the perpetrator for wrongful death in civil court whether or not they are criminally convicted of the crime. The following are some of the more common intentional tort claims.


Battery is the legal term for hitting someone, or otherwise touching them in an offensive manner (such as the case of sexual battery), which comes from the verb "to batter." This covers a surprising range of activities, including sending projectiles into someone else's body, as in firing a gun. Keep in mind that outside of the realm of torts, battery also is the term used for a criminal charge for a similar act, often charged alongside assault.


An assault is an attempted battery, or threatening injury when no battery takes place. If someone points a gun at you, causing fear of immediate danger, it could be claimed as an assault. Similar to battery, there is a criminal counterpart to assault in the non-tort context.

False Imprisonment

The technical definition of false imprisonment is "confinement without legal authority." Generally, no one is allowed to restrict another person's movement against her will. There are two major exceptions to this. Police generally have the authority to detain for a limited period people they reasonably suspect of crimes. The other exception is called the "shopkeeper's privilege," which allows shopkeepers to keep people they suspect of shoplifting for a reasonable amount of time.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In order to prove a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), a plaintiff has to prove that someone else engaged in extreme or outrageous conduct with the intent of disturbing someone else, and caused severe emotional distress or bodily harm to the victim as a result. IIED can be be more difficult to prove in court unless physical injuries accompany the claim, though this is not legally required.


Fraud is the legal term for lying to someone with the intent to deceive them. In order to succeed in a suit for fraud, plaintiffs generally have to prove:

  • The speaker knew what they said was false
  • The speaker knew the other person would believe them
  • The other person would rely on that information
  • The other person would be harmed by relying on this information

Outside of civil torts, fraud also may be charged as a crime.


Defamation is when someone knowingly says something false about someone else, and that lie causes harm. It includes both written (libelous) and spoken (slanderous) words.

Invasion of Privacy

The exact nature of the invasion of privacy varies by state, but there are generally four types of invasions of privacy:

  • Invasion of solitude, in which someone interferes with someone else's right to be left alone.
  • Public disclosure of private facts
  • False light, in which someone publishes untrue but not defamatory facts about someone else which create a false implication about that person
  • Appropriation, which is the unauthorized use of someone else's likeness for profit.


Trespass comes in two forms: trespass to land (real estate), and trespass to chattel (personal property). In either case, trespass means using the property without the permission of the owner.


Conversion is when someone takes someone else's property and "converts" it to their own or otherwise damages or destroys it, thereby depriving the true owner of that property. In the criminal world, conversion is charged as theft.

Get Legal Help with Your Intentional Tort Claim

If someone's intentional acts caused you injury, you may have a valid legal claim against them. But how do you find out if you'd be eligible to receive damages for your injuries? The best way is to speak with a local personal injury attorney who can evaluate the facts of your case and provide personalized legal advice.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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