What Are Intentional Torts?
Intentional torts are wrongful civil acts done on purpose. The wrongdoer (tortfeasor) does not need to mean harm. But someone else may end up hurt anyway, such as in a prank. Or, the person can mean harm, such as in domestic violence situations. Both types of cases are examples of intentional torts.
What Is a Tort?
A tort is a wrongful act that causes harm to someone else. This definition covers a wide range of actions, and common law tort cases are split into many subcategories. In common law, or the body of law that has evolved through court precedent, the three main types of torts are:
- Unintentional torts (negligence)
- Intentional torts
- Strict liability torts
Tort law is generally separated by the mental state of the person who does the wrongdoing. Unintentional torts often are caused by someone's negligence. They're known as negligent torts. That means the wrongdoer was careless but didn't act with ill purpose. On the other hand, when the wrongdoer intends to act, the act becomes an intentional tort.
Some wrongful actions are strict liability torts, which means you may be liable even if you acted without intent or negligence. These arise in situations where someone handles hazardous materials or dangerous animals. Strict liability is also a part of product liability law, which deals with defective products. The only similarity between strict liability torts and intentional torts is that negligence is irrelevant to both, as there is no legal standard of care regarding the wrongdoer's conduct.
In negligence cases, the wrongdoer is held to some requirement of reasonable care. Elements like duty of care, breach of duty, and proximate cause are only relevant to negligence cases where someone is held to a reasonable person standard. You may hear about car accident cases involving motor vehicle injuries. These include a negligence claim for an auto accident, for which a car insurance company might get involved.
By contrast, this article addresses actions that are intentional civil wrongs. In this context, we are only concerned with:
- The wrongdoer's state of mind
- Their wrongful act
- The causation between the wrongful act and the ensuing harm to an injured party
Intentional Tort Example
An example of an intentional tort is a punch to the face, which is called battery. In this case:
- The person intended to make a fist and slam it into the victim's face
- The person also intended to harm the injured party
This law can be tricky, however. Sometimes, the person who performs an intentional tort did not intend the harm.
For example, suppose you surprise-prank someone with an unstable heart condition, and the fright causes that person to have a heart attack. Here, you may have committed an intentional tort even if you did not intend to scare that person into a heart attack. While you may not have been aware of the person's heart condition, you maintained an intent to carry out the prank. It is enough that you intended to cause the act even if you did not intend to cause the underlying harm.
Common Intentional Torts
An intentional tort is a wrongful act that someone plans and carries out while fully aware of their actions. Since many of these acts also may be charged as crimes, you may notice some factual similarities between civil and criminal law cases. 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 and comes from the verb to batter. It includes touching someone in an offensive manner, such as in the case of sexual battery. Battery 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 is also the term used for a criminal charge for a similar act, often charged alongside assault.
An assault is an attempted battery or threatening injury before battery takes place. If someone points a gun at you, causing fear of immediate danger, it could be an assault. Similar to battery, there is a criminal counterpart to assault.
The technical definition of false imprisonment is "confinement without legal authority." Generally, no one is allowed to restrict another person's movement against their will. There are two major exceptions to this. Police typically have the authority to detain people they reasonably suspect of crimes for a limited period. The other exception is the "shopkeeper's privilege," which allows storeowners to keep people they suspect of shoplifting for a reasonable amount of time.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
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
- Had the intent of disturbing someone else
- Caused severe emotional distress or bodily harm to the victim
IIED can be more difficult to prove in court unless physical injuries accompany the claim, though this is not legally required in all states.
Fraud is the legal term for lying to someone with the intent to deceive them. To succeed in a suit for fraud, plaintiffs generally have to prove:
- The defendant knew what they represented to the plaintiff (injured person) was false
- The defendant knew the injured person would believe them
- The injured person relied on that information
- The injured person was harmed by relying on the 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, where someone publicizes offensive facts about another
- False light, in which someone publishes untrue (but not defamatory) facts about someone else that create a false implication about that person
- Appropriation, which is the unauthorized use of someone else's name and/or likeness for profit
Trespass comes in two forms: trespass to land (real estate) and trespass to chattel (personal property and property damage). In either case, trespass means using a property without the owner's permission.
Conversion is when someone takes someone else's property and converts it to their own or otherwise damages or destroys it, depriving the true owner of that property. In a criminal case, conversion is charged as theft.
As with all personal injury claims, intentional tort cases allow for the recovery of compensatory damages. This means a court will award the injured party financial compensation intended to make them whole. Examples of monetary damages include:
- Medical expenses and medical bills
- Lost income and future earnings
- Pain and suffering damages
A court may also award punitive damages. Since intentional torts are carried out with purpose, a plaintiff may also show that the defendant acted egregiously and with knowledge of possible harm. In such an instance, additional punitive damages may be awarded to make an example out of the defendant and deter future harmful conduct.
Get Legal Help With Your Intentional Tort Claim
You may have a valid personal injury claim if someone's intentional acts injured you. But how do you determine if you'd be eligible for damages for your injuries in a personal injury case? The best way is to speak with a local personal injury lawyer who can evaluate the facts of your civil case and provide legal advice. They may also assist you with filing a civil lawsuit.
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.
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.