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Intentional Torts: Harm That Was No Accident

Intentional tort

Most personal injury cases are based upon the theory of negligence: the failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances. In other words, a person can be held liable for damages caused by careless behavior.

But what about acts that harm another person — acts done on purpose?

Intentional Torts: No Accident

A tort is a wrongful act that causes someone else to suffer harm. Most of the time, the person who committed the act did so unintentionally, and it is considered negligence. But when the person who acted wrongfully intended to do so, the behavior may be considered an intentional tort. An intentional tort occurs when an individual or entity purposely engages in conduct that causes injury or damage to another.

Many intentional torts are relatively common, such as:

  • Battery: The legal term for striking someone. This covers a range of activities, from punching someone in the face to firing bullets into someone with a gun.
  • Assault: An attempted battery, or threatening to injure someone even if no actual battery takes place.
  • False imprisonment: Restricting another person’s movement against their will, with two exceptions: police privilege and shopkeeper’s privilege.
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress: Engaging in outrageous or extreme conduct with the intent of frightening someone else, and causing severe emotional distress or bodily harm.
  • Fraud:  The legal term for lying. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew four things:
    that he was lying
    that the plaintiff would believe him
    that the plaintiff would rely on the false statement
    that the plaintiff would be harmed by this reliance
  • Nuisance: Conduct that’s dangerous to life or property, or out of place in the surroundings. Private nuisance is an interference with the plaintiff’s own property, while public nuisance is an act that interferes with the public’s use or enjoyment of public property. Attractive nuisance holds a landowner responsible for a condition that children under 14 might not recognize as dangerous, for example, a swimming pool.
  • Defamation: Causing harm by saying something false about someone else, including written statements (libel) and spoken (slander).
  • Invasion of privacy: There are four types:
    invasion of solitude
    public disclosure of private facts
    false light
    appropriation
  • Trespass: Using someone’s land or personal property without permission.
  • Conversion: Taking someone else’s property and “converting” it into their own — also known as stealing.

Civil and Criminal Acts

Some intentional torts are also considered crimes, although the difference between a civil and criminal act is important. A crime can be defined as a wrongful act that injures or interferes with the interests of society. In comparison, intentional torts are wrongful acts that injure or interfere with an individual or property.

While criminal charges are brought by the local, state, or federal government and can result in a fine, jail sentence, and other penalties, a tort case can be brought by a plaintiff seeking monetary compensation from the defendant, should the defendant be found liable.

Image by Seth Sawyers, used under Creative Commons license.

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