You commit an intentional tort when you deliberately commit an act that harms someone else in a manner for which the law imposes liability. Claimants typically seek remedy in the form of monetary compensation. Intentional acts that cause foreseeable personal injury are intentional torts, such as assault and false imprisonment. Certain other types of harm, such as harm to someone’s reputation (through defamation), also constitute intentional torts.
Intentional Torts vs. Negligent Torts
Most personal injury claims arise from negligence (carelessness) rather than an intentional act. A classic example of negligence is a DUI accident. Since the DUI driver did not intend to collide with your vehicle, any personal injury claim must be based on negligence.
Contrast this with someone who intentionally causes an accident due to road rage or someone who deliberately injures you in a bar fight. These are both intentional torts.
Examples of Intentional Torts
There is no exhaustive list of intentional torts. Below you will find a list of some of the most common examples.
Suppose a professional rival falsely accuses you of committing a crime, causing you to lose your job. You will have a defamation claim against your accuser. This is an intentional tort as long as your accuser either knew that the accusation was false or communicated the accusation with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false. Negligent defamation is also a tort but not an intentional tort.
The legal definition of assault is not the same as the colloquial definition. Pointing a gun in someone’s face is assault, for example, if the victim reasonably fears that you might pull the trigger. Such action constitutes the intentional tort of assault even if your gun wasn’t loaded, as long as the victim did not realize there were no bullets in the gun.
“Battery” is another legal term of art that doesn’t carry the same meaning that it does in common parlance. In law, a battery is not something you put into a flashlight. Instead, it carries about the same meaning in law that “assault” carries in ordinary conversation.
Cock your fist at someone, and you have assaulted them if they reasonably believe you are about to punch them. Punch them, and you have committed battery.
Trespass to Land
Setting foot on someone else’s real property without the right to do so constitutes trespass to land. Usually, this right requires the express or implied permission of the property owner. Nevertheless, the police, for example, can set foot on your land and even kick down your front door with appropriate authorization (a valid search warrant, for example).
Trespass to Chattels
A chattel is an item of personal property that you can move. Consequently, it excludes real estate, for example, but includes cars. If someone uses your car without your permission, but without the intent to permanently deprive you of it, they have committed the intentional tort of trespass to chattels.
“Conversion” includes the theft of a chattel. It also includes the taking of property when you did not realize it belonged to someone else. For example, you might have taken property that you believed was abandoned. Even if your intentions were innocent, your intentional taking of the property would constitute the intentional tort of conversion (but not theft).
Torts vs. Crimes: The Burden of Proof
Suppose you suffer injuries caused by someone who ran a red light and hit you while you were crossing the street as a pedestrian. The police arrest the driver, but a criminal court acquits the driver based on a defense of mistaken identity. Can you still win an intentional tort claim against the driver? Yes, because the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit is much lower than the burden of proof in a criminal prosecution.
When you win a lawsuit for personal injury, whether or not it was related to an intentional tort, courts award you monetary compensation for losses such as:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Out-of-pocket expenses;
- Pain and suffering;
- Mental anguish; and
- Other tangible and intangible losses you suffered.
However, damages work differently for workers’ compensation and wrongful death claims.
Courts award punitive damages not to compensate the victim but to punish the defendant and to deter the defendant and others from repeating their wrongful conduct. However, if the court assesses punitive damages against the defendant, you receive both compensatory and punitive damages. The burden of proof for punitive damages is higher than the burden of proof for compensatory damages.
Courts are reluctant to assess punitive damages even when the defendant loses the case. Typically, courts only award compensatory damages. They prefer to avoid assessing punitive damages unless the defendant’s conduct is outrageous. However, a high percentage of intentional torts involve outrageous behavior. Consequently, if someone commits an intentional tort against you, you have a chance of winning punitive damages.
Insurance Coverage Problems
Most insurance policies do not cover injuries caused by intentional torts. If someone robs you and beats you senselessly, they might lack the financial ability to compensate you for your injuries. Additionally, your health insurance policy probably doesn’t cover intentional torts. This might leave you with nowhere to turn for compensation. A skilled lawyer might find a second defendant, however.
Do You Need a Lawyer?
If your neighbor’s teenage son “borrowed” your sports car for a 30-minute joy ride (trespass to chattels), you might consider simply dropping the matter. If your neighbor sent you to the hospital by “siccing” his dog on you (battery), you should probably press your claim. Contact the skilled legal team Hasner Law, PC today at 678-888-4878to schedule a free consultation.