What are Intentional Torts?
An area of civil litigation, “intentional torts” are defined by knowingly or purposefully caused harm
A tort is a harmful act that causes damages to another. Many tort cases involve simple negligence, which means that the defendant failed to use the level of care that a reasonable person would use in the same situation.
For example, in the case of a car accident caused by a distracted driver, the defendant (the driver) failed to drive in a responsible and reasonable way, which resulted in the accident. In this case, the plaintiff (the accident victim) would be eligible for personal injury damage compensation.
An intentional tort differs because the mental state of the person who caused harm is “knowingly” or “purposefully.”
Assault and battery
A common example of an intentional tort is battery, which is when one person causes harmful or physical contact to another. Battery covers many different types of offensive contact, including medical procedures that an unconscious patient did not consent to while conscience.
It is important to remember that a person who commits an intentional tort like battery does not need to intend to cause the exact type or extent of harm suffered by the plaintiff. For example, if the defendant strikes the plaintiff without knowing that the plaintiff had a fractured skull that predisposed them to death if struck in the head, the defendant can be held liable for death even if they only intended to hurt the plaintiff.
Assault and battery are often linked together, but they differ in the type of harm caused to the plaintiff. To commit assault, the defendant only needs to put the plaintiff in fear of harm, such as raising their fist as if they are about to strike the plaintiff or pulling a knife or gun on them in a threatening manner.
Defamation in the form of slander or libel is another type of intentional tort. This type of tort involves a false statement made to another person or published in writing that causes harm to the plaintiff. If a statement is true, this can constitute a defense to slander or libel.
Libel usually involves a false written statement about the plaintiff, while slander typically involves verbally spoken words.
False imprisonment is an intentional tort which involves confinement of the plaintiff without lawful authority. An example of lawful authority to confine someone is when the police place handcuffs on a person to arrest them after witnessing a crime or serving an arrest warrant. The “shopkeeper’s privilege” allows store owners to detain a person whom they reasonably suspect is committing theft in a store.
False imprisonment can involve any restriction of the plaintiff’s movement, including threats of violence if the plaintiff tries to leave.
Conversion is the civil version of theft. A person does not need to intend to permanently deprive the owner of property of it in order to be held liable for conversion. Simply borrowing an item and refusing to return it on time and as agreed can make a defendant liable for conversion.
It is also possible for a defendant to be held liable for conversion for damaged property. For example, a defendant who rents a car and returns it late and in a much worse condition than it was in when they borrowed the car may be held liable for conversion.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress involves a claim where the defendant’s extreme or outrageous conduct caused the plaintiff emotional harm. These types of cases can be difficult to prove in court since emotional distress tends to be subjective.
Intentional torts: civil cases vs. criminal cases
The elements of an intentional tort may overlap with the elements of a crime for the same conduct. A prosecution for a crime ordinarily does not bar a lawsuit for an intentional tort being filed against the same defendant. The state must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to be found guilty of a crime. In a civil case, the burden of proof is usually by a preponderance of evidence (more likely than not) or clear and convincing evidence. This is why there have been cases where a defendant who was found not guilty by a jury in a criminal case was held liable for damages in a separate civil case.
Sometimes intentional torts may also overlap. For example, a plaintiff may file a cause of action for both assault and battery because they allege that the defendant both placed them in fear of being struck and also that the defendant actually struck them, causing physical injuries. A claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress may be filed along with other claims based on the mental anguish suffered by the plaintiff.