Intentional Tort: What Is It, And Can I Seek Compensation?

Sarah Edwards

Contributor

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.

Editor

Read in 4 mins

Most personal injury claims arise from negligence. However, this is not the only legal theory that injured people can use to seek compensation. Lawyers can use a theory called strict liability when filing product liability cases. Another theory called intentional tort applies to cases where the wrongdoer intended the action that injured the victim.

Each of these legal doctrines has benefits and drawbacks. A skilled lawyer will assert as many theories as possible to give their client the best chance of resolving their injury claims successfully. Intentional torts can provide compensation in cases that might not fit squarely into typical accident-related fact patterns.

What Is an Intentional Tort?

Law students do not learn personal injury law. Instead, they study tort law. Tort law covers most wrongs committed between parties that cause bodily injury, property damage, or reputational harm.

Under English common law, torts, contracts, and property had ill-defined boundaries and overlapped one another. Torts were defined to exclude anything that involved real property or a contract. But even these categories had exceptions. For example, torts include trespass to land and intentional interference with contractual relations.

Torts break down into three further categories based on the level of knowledge and intent required to commit them:

  • Intentional torts
  • Negligence
  • Strict liability torts

Intentional torts require the highest level of knowledge or intent. To prove an intentional tort, you must have evidence that the other party intended to commit the action that resulted in the harm.

A classic example is trespass. If someone runs onto your land, they have trespassed because running is an intentional act. If someone falls onto your land, they have not trespassed because falling is not intentional.

Negligence requires you to show that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care. In other words, someone is negligent when a reasonable person would have acted differently. A car accident settlement, for example, happens when an insurer recognizes its covered driver failed to drive with due care.

Strict liability does not require any proof of knowledge or intent. It is reserved for inherently dangerous activities like manufacturing defective products for mass consumption or keeping dangerous animals. Injury lawyers use strict liability when filing product liability lawsuits.

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Intentional Tort Examples

The law recognizes many types of intentional torts. Some of the most common include:

Battery

Battery happens when someone performs an intentional action that results in harmful or offensive contact with your body. The battery could occur when someone attacks and injures you. But it can also happen in less obvious situations.

For example, intentionally slapping the phone out of your hand, spitting on you, or throwing an object at you could also qualify as a battery.

Battery does not require proof that the other party intended to injure you. When someone throws a bottle at one person and hits another, the victim has a claim for battery even though they were not the intended target.

Assault

Assault is often described as an attempted or unsuccessful battery. An assault happens when someone intentionally performs an action that places you in fear of an imminent battery. Thus, suppose that a road rage driver deliberately swerves at you. Your lawyer can prove assault if you genuinely thought they would hit you.

Trespass to Land

Intentional torts also include damaging acts toward your property. When someone intentionally interferes with the exclusive use and enjoyment of your land, they have trespassed.

Defamation

Defamation, formerly called slander and libel, happens when someone intentionally utters or publishes a false statement about you that demeans your character and reputation.

Under the First Amendment, defamation of public figures only happens when the speaker or writer knows of the statement’s falsity or recklessly proceeds regardless of the truth.

You can pursue a claim against someone who commits an intentional tort. This claim will allow you to seek compensation for the losses you incurred. As you and your lawyer consider how and against whom to assert a claim, you should keep the following considerations in mind:

Benefits and Drawbacks Compared to Negligence

A benefit of intentional torts is that you are not required to prove your losses. A jury can presume that you suffered damage from the intentional wrong and award a fair sum based on the testimony explaining how your injuries affected you.

A drawback of intentional torts is that insurance companies of all sizes usually deny coverage for intentional acts. Thus, if you assert another driver deliberately injured you in a road rage incident, their auto insurance company will probably deny your claim, arguing that its policy only covers negligence.

Asserting Multiple Legal Theories

In many cases, you can assert both intentional and negligent tort claims. For example, suppose your elderly relative died due to nursing home abuse. You might have a battery claim against the employee who caused the fatal injury. You may also have a negligence claim against the facility for failing to supervise its workers.

Learn More From ConsumerShield

Intentional torts provide a powerful tool for holding parties responsible for the losses they cause. ConsumerShield is dedicated to educating consumers about their legal rights and connecting them with legal representation. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Plaintiffs must prove the injurious act was intentional. This does not require proof that the other party intended the consequences. Instead, it only requires proof that the other party intended to act. Thus, in a battery claim, you only need to prove the contact was intentional rather than accidental.

  • Battery is an example that precisely fits the intentional tort definition. Battery happens when someone injures someone else with intentional contact, such as punching them. Even if the consequences were unintended, the other party still bears the liability for the act.

  • Intentional torts are typically categorized by the types of harm they cause:

    • Physical and mental injury, such as battery and false imprisonment
    • Property damage, such as trespass and conversion
    • Reputational damage, such as defamation

    These torts have other differences as well, but the type of loss provides an easy categorization method.

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