An intentional tort is a civil wrong which has been caused by an intentional action. This is in contrast to torts resulting from lack of appropriate action within an area of responsibility, which fall under negligence. Mistakes under contract are unintentional and are covered by liability torts instead of intentional torts, so liability insurance does not protect against intentional torts.
Elements of intentional tort
The elements of intentional tort are intentional action, injury, cause, and harm. Harm does not need to be intended as long as the action was intentional. Even acting intentionally without absolute certainty of causing harm may be adequate for an intentional tort.
The action is still considered intentional if the person who was injured is not the person against whom the action was intended. Some intentional torts may also be criminal.
In general, damages for intentional torts tend to be higher than those for equivalent harm caused by negligence. This is especially true for punitive damages. However, recovery is usually allowed only for actions which have malign intent.
Intentional interference with the person
These types of intentional torts consist of non-consensual harm deliberately inflicted on one person by another. They include assault, battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Deliberate interference with a person’s reputation is also an intentional tort, and falls under defamation.
Assault is a threat of imminent battery. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant threatened harm, the defendant could have carried out the threat, and the plaintiff reasonably believed the threat was genuine.
Battery is the intentional and non-consensual touching of the plaintiff. The touch may cause physical harm, emotional harm, or both. The standard is whether a reasonable person with ordinary sensitivity would have suffered harm from the touch.
False imprisonment is non-voluntary confinement in a bounded area without legal justification. As long as the confinement causes harm and there is no reasonable means of escape, the location and means of confinement does not matter. Confinement through intimidation or even words alone can be sufficient to bring about an intentional tort of false imprisonment.
Malicious prosecution and false arrest consist of criminal proceedings taken against the plaintiff without reasonable and probable cause. It does not apply if all members of the justice system can be demonstrated to have acted in good faith. The right of a private citizen to make a citizen’s arrest is strictly limited, and can lead to an intentional tort of false arrest if exceeded.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress occurs when the plaintiff has suffered harm because of extreme distress caused by the outrageous conduct of the defendant. There is no specific definition except that the defendant’s conduct must have exceeded all bounds of decency, and was undertaken with either intent or recklessness. It is most commonly found when the plaintiff belongs to a vulnerable class of persons, such as the very old, or where the outrageous conduct occurred in public.
The 2 forms of defamation are slander and libel, which are both communication of derogatory statements about another person. The only difference between them is the form of the statement. Slanderous statements are transitory, such as conversation. Libelous statements have a more permanent form, usually printed.
To prove slander or libel, the plaintiff must prove that the statement was false and has also caused harm to the defendent. If the statement was made about a public official, the statement must also have been made with the intent to cause harm, or with reckless disregard for the truth.
Intentional interference with property
These types of intentional torts consist of damaging and non-consensual forms of interference with a person’s fixed property or moveable property (chattel). They include trespass, public or private nuisance, and conversion.
Trespass is invasion of private property without permission or legal authority. Trespass to land is physical and intentional entry onto the land. Trespass to chattels is intentional interference with the plaintiff’s moveable property which causes damage. Intangible invasion of property, such as an irritating smell caused by a neighbor’s actions, is not a trespass. Instead, it is classified as a nuisance.
Private nuisance is a situational condition caused by the defendant which causes harm by preventing the plaintiff from enjoying his property. Public nuisance is similar, but it causes harm to the public interest. The harm may be physical or emotional, and includes issues of safety, health, comfort, convenience, and even morality.
Conversion is the civil law equivalent of theft. The difference between theft and conversion is that conversion does not require an element of dishonesty. Although the action was taken with intent, it does not have to be wrongful intent. Conversion usually happens when property has originally been lost, and later found in a situation where the ownership is not clear.
Defense against charges of intentional tort
The most common defenses against intentional interference with the person are proof of consent, self-defense, defense of a third party, fair comment, and truth. The most common defenses against intentional interference with property are consent, unintentional entry, and private necessity.
Proof of consent can completely negate charges of intentional tort, unless the person did not have the capacity to consent or unless the actions went beyond the level of contact to which the plaintiff had consented. For example, a plaintiff who had permitted the defendant into his home could still sue for trespass if the plaintiff long overstayed his welcome or invited others who had not been permitted to come. Some actions, such as duels, cannot legally be consented to.
A minor cannot normally give legal consent. In this case, the consent of the legal authority stands in for the consent of the minor.
Self defense and defense of a third party requires proof that physical attack or a reasonable threat of violence existed at the time. The plaintiff must prove that a reasonable person would have felt himself or the third party to be in immediate danger.
Defamation is negated when the statements made can be proven to be true. Statements of the defendant’s personal opinion fall under fair comment, but fair comment does not allow anyone to falsify a fact.
Unintentional entry has occurred when the defendant enters a location without intending to be at that location, such as when lost or sleepwalking. Private necessity happens when the defendant has entered the property intentionally because of an emergency. The emergency must be reasonably believed to be life-threatening.
Parents have the right to discipline children. Military commanders have the right to discipline their subordinates. These rights supersede intentional tort, as long as only reasonable force is used.