Intentional tort

Intentional tort

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An intentional tort is a category of torts that describes a civil wrong resulting from an intentional act on the part of the tortfeasor. The term negligence
Negligence is a failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances. The area of tort law known as negligence involves harm caused by carelessness, not intentional harm.According to Jay M...

, on the other hand, pertains to a tort that simply results from the failure of the tortfeasor to take sufficient care in fulfilling a duty owed, while strict liability torts
Strict liability
In law, strict liability is a standard for liability which may exist in either a criminal or civil context. A rule specifying strict liability makes a person legally responsible for the damage and loss caused by his or her acts and omissions regardless of culpability...

 refers to situations where a party is liable for injuries no matter what precautions were taken.

Why intentional torts are different

As a matter of public policy
Public policy
Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. In general, the foundation is the pertinent national and...

, damages available for intentional torts tend to be broader and more generous than for negligent torts. In order to preserve individual well-being and overall social welfare, society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 generally wishes to deter its members from intentionally attacking each other. For example, in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, it is easier to get punitive damages
Punitive damages
Punitive damages or exemplary damages are damages intended to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit...

 (damages above and beyond compensatory damages) if one can prove that the tort was intentional. But it is harder to prove intentional torts because as with many felony crimes, one must prove subjective elements involving the content of the defendant's mind, and defendants do not always express their harmful intent out loud or in writing.

How to tell the difference

The key difference between intentional torts and negligent torts is that the plaintiff must prove the additional element that the defendant acted with the specific intent to perform (i.e. acted with a mental state of intentionally performing) the act which was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries. "The concept of 'intention' in the intentional torts does not require defendants to know that their acts will result in harm to the plaintiffs. Defendants must know only that their acts will result in certain consequences". Under doctrines such as transferred intent
Transferred intent
Transferred intent describes the fact that intent can be transferred between victims, between torts, or both. In tort law, there are generally five areas in which transferred intent is applicable: battery, assault, false imprisonment, trespass to land, and trespass to chattels...

, the plaintiff need not always prove that the defendant acted with the intent to bring about the specific injury that actually occurred.

Not every intentional action qualifies as an intentional tort. Suppose an investor holding more than half of a corporation's stock votes on changes the other stockholders find detrimental. If the other stockholders suffer damages
In law, damages is an award, typically of money, to be paid to a person as compensation for loss or injury; grammatically, it is a singular noun, not plural.- Compensatory damages :...

 as a result, this is not a tort, as the powerful investor had a right to vote whichever way he liked. Thus, the other stockholders cannot sue the aforementioned investor for damages. If, on the other hand, John Doe physically attacks a passerby in the street, and as a result the passerby incurs medical bills, John is liable for these costs, as he is guilty of the tort of battery
Battery (tort)
At common law, battery is the tort of intentionally and voluntarily bringing about an unconsented harmful or offensive contact with a person or to something closely associated with them . Unlike assault, battery involves an actual contact...


To find a defendant
A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

 liable for an intentional tort, the plaintiff
A plaintiff , also known as a claimant or complainant, is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court...

 must prove that the defendant performed the action leading to the damages the plaintiff alleges, and that the defendant acted with purpose, or that he had knowledge with substantial certainty
Substantial Certainty Doctrine
In law, the substantial certainty doctrine is the assumption of intent even if the actor did not intend the result, but knew with substantial certainty the effect would occur as a result of his action....

 that an act would result in a tortious result. Furthermore, the action must be a recognized "wrongful act." A famous case in the 1800s involved a hemophiliac child (Vosburg) who was kicked by another child (Putney) at school, resulting in severe disability of the leg. Although the kicker could not have reasonably foreseen that the kick would cause severe disability, he certainly could have foreseen that it would cause discomfort, and was found liable.

For example, a plaintiff attempting to prove that a defendant committed the intentional tort of battery
Battery (tort)
At common law, battery is the tort of intentionally and voluntarily bringing about an unconsented harmful or offensive contact with a person or to something closely associated with them . Unlike assault, battery involves an actual contact...

 must fulfill several factors: intent, an act, cause, and harmful or offensive contact.

Here, "intent" means either purpose or "knowledge with substantial certainty," as elucidated in Garratt v. Dailey
Garratt v. Dailey
Garratt v. Dailey, 46 Wash. 2d 197, 279 P.2d 1091 is a famous tort law case that illustrates the principle of "intent" for intentional torts.- Background :...

. "Cause" in an intentional tort need only be "actual cause;" that is, but for the defendant's action the tortious result would not have occurred. The plaintiff need not allege or prove proximate cause, which would indicate that the result of the defendant's actions was reasonably foreseeable.

Common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 intentional torts include the following:
  • Assault
    Assault (tort)
    In common law, assault is the tort of acting intentionally, that is with either general or specific intent, causing the reasonable apprehension of an immediate harmful or offensive contact. Because assault requires intent, it is considered an intentional tort, as opposed to a tort of negligence...

  • Battery
    Battery (tort)
    At common law, battery is the tort of intentionally and voluntarily bringing about an unconsented harmful or offensive contact with a person or to something closely associated with them . Unlike assault, battery involves an actual contact...

  • Conversion
    -Economy and Finance:* Currency conversion or exchange rate* Conversion , one of the options strategies* Economic conversion-Law:* Conversion , conversion by taking a chattel out of the possession of another with the intent of exercising a permanent or temporary dominion over it, despite the...

  • False imprisonment
    False imprisonment
    False imprisonment is a restraint of a person in a bounded area without justification or consent. False imprisonment is a common-law felony and a tort. It applies to private as well as governmental detention...

  • Trespass to land
  • Trespass to chattels (Personal property)
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
    Intentional infliction of emotional distress
    Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a tort claim of recent origin for intentional conduct that results in extreme emotional distress. Some courts and commentators have substituted mental for emotional, but the tort is the same...

  • Fraud
  • Invasion of privacy

An assault is the immediate intentional creation of apprehension of another without consent or privilege. A battery is the intentional harmful or offensive touching of another without consent or privilege. A conversion is the intentional exercise of dominion and control of another's property without their consent or privilege. False imprisonment is the intent to confine or bound someone without a means of egress. Trespass to land is the intentional interference with the land of another without consent or privilege. Trespass to chattel is the intentional interference with the personal property of another without consent or privilege.

Property torts

Property torts are a specific class of intentional torts which arise when the right invaded is a property right rather than a personal right.(land is taken from someone, and they didnt know it was theirs because it was passed down.) These include trespass to land
Trespass to land
Trespass to land is a common law tort that is committed when an individual or the object of an individual intentionally enters the land of another without a lawful excuse. Trespass to land is actionable per se. Thus, the party whose land is entered upon may sue even if no actual harm is done...

 (entering someone's land without permission), trespass to chattels
Trespass to chattels
Trespass to chattels is a tort whereby the infringing party has intentionally interfered with another person's lawful possession of a chattel...

 (handling items owned by another without permission), and conversion
Conversion (law)
Conversion is a common law tort. A conversion is a voluntary act by one person inconsistent with the ownership rights of another. It is a tort of strict liability...

 (taking possession of someone else's property with the intent not to return it).
Some older, and largely obsolete, property law concepts include detinue
In tort law, detinue is an action to recover for the wrongful taking of personal property. It is initiated by an individual who claims to have a greater right to their immediate possession than the current possessor...

, replevin
In creditors' rights law, replevin, sometimes known as "claim and delivery," is a legal remedy for a person to recover goods unlawfully withheld from his or her possession, by means of a special form of legal process in which a court may require a defendant to return specific goods to the...

, and trover
Trover is a form of lawsuit in common-law countries for recovery of damages for wrongful taking of personal property. Trover belongs to a series of remedies for such wrongful taking, its distinctive feature being recovery only for the value of whatever was taken, not for the recovery of the...


Dignitary torts

Dignitary torts are the class of intentional tort, including slander and libel
Slander and libel
Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander , and libel —is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image...

, which arise when the right invaded involves the reputation or privacy of the individual claiming industry.


Generally, intentional torts are uninsurable as a matter of public policy, meaning that tortfeasors guilty of such torts must pay damages out of their own pocket (if they have any money worth going after). Otherwise, professional criminals could obtain liability insurance
Liability insurance
Liability insurance is a part of the general insurance system of risk financing to protect the purchaser from the risks of liabilities imposed by lawsuits and similar claims. It protects the insured in the event he or she is sued for claims that come within the coverage of the insurance policy...

 to insure against the risk of being caught and prosecuted by the state, or sued in civil actions by their victims.

Of course, this rule has not stopped criminals from attempting to litigate whether particular intentional torts are not really intentional (meaning that their liability insurers would have a duty to defend and indemnify them). The Supreme Court of California
Supreme Court of California
The Supreme Court of California is the highest state court in California. It is headquartered in San Francisco and regularly holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.-Composition:...

 forcefully shot down one such attempt: "[California Insurance Code] Section 533 precludes coverage in this case because child molestation is always intentional, it is always wrongful, and it is always harmful."