Intentional Tort

A tort is a wrongful act in which harm or injury is caused to another person. The term “tort” covers a vast range of actions in tort law, and is divided into subcategories, which include “intentional tort.” Intentional tort occurs when a person intends to perform an action that causes harm to another. For intentional tort to be proven, it is not required for the person causing the harm to intentionally cause an actual injury, they must only intend to perform the act. For instance, if a person intentionally frightens a person with a bad heart, who then has a heart attack as a result of the action, it would be an intentional tort even though the person did not have the intention of causing the heart attack.  To explore this concept, consider the following intentional tort definition.

Definition of Tort

Noun

  1. A wrongful or unlawful act or infringement of rights which lead to civil legal liability
  1. A civil wrong that occurs when a person causes harm to another with knowledge that harm or injury can occur

Origin

Late 16th century Medieval Latin tortum

Elements of Intentional Tort

Proving an intentional tort requires that the victim show the defendant acted with the specific intent to perform the act that caused the injuries or damage. The defendant does not necessarily have to know that injuries would occur as a result of the act, just that the act is subject to consequences. In order to successfully sue another person for intentional tort, certain elements must be in place:

Intent

Intent is defined as acting with purpose or having knowledge that the act in question can cause injury or harm to another person. If the element of intent is not in place, it can be referred to simply as a tort.

Acting

Acting requires the person to perform an act that results in harm or injury to another. Thinking about or planning to perform an act does not constitute acting.

Actual Cause

This element requires the victim to prove that, without the defendant’s actions or “causes,” the injuries or damage would not have occurred.

Examples of Intentional Tort

  1. A child named John kicks Adam during recess at school and the kick causes significant damage as Adam already suffers from a disability. John does not know that Adam suffers a disability, but he does know that kicking someone will cause discomfort. This constitutes intentional tort since John “intended” to kick Adam knowing the “act” could cause harm. If John had not kicked Adam, the “actual cause” of the injury would not have occurred.
  2. Bob and Rick get into an argument and Bob punches Rick in the face, breaking his nose. Bob feels guilty because, even though he was mad and intended to hit Rick, he did not intend to break his nose. Rick sues Bob for medical expenses related to the injury and wins the suit. The judge rules that, even though Bob did not intend to break Rick’s nose, he did intend to hit him and he had the knowledge that hitting another person could cause injury.

Typical Types of Intentional Tort

There are many types of intentional tort with the most common being:

  • Conversion – the act of someone taking another person’s property and converting it to his own use. This is also known as “stealing” in many jurisdictions.
  • Trespassing – the act of using or occupying another person’s real property without permission.
  • Battery – the illegal act of harmful or offensive contact with another person’s body. The word comes from the term “to batter” and it covers an array of activities including firing a gun at someone or using the hands to cause harm to another person.
  • Assault – an intentional act creating in another person apprehension or fear of being harmed. Assault is carried out by threat of causing bodily harm, together with the victim’s perception that the aggressor has the ability to cause harm.
  • Intentional Emotional Distress – the act of causing mental anguish to another person through outrageous conduct, injury, or other harm.
  • False Imprisonment – act of holding someone against their will without legal authority. According to the law, a citizen is not allowed to restrict the movement of another person without his consent. Business owners can, however, detain people suspected of shoplifting.
  • Fraud – the act of intentionally deceiving a person or entity for the purpose of monetary gain.

Intentional Tort and Crime

Many intentional torts are classified as both criminal and civil acts. An intentional tort which is the subject of criminal prosecution often results in a civil suit between the parties. If the defendant in the civil lawsuit loses, he may be ordered to pay the injured party monetary damages. Unlike the civil cases brought for intentional tort, the prosecution for the criminal act does not focus on monetary reimbursement to the victim, but rather protecting the public and punishing the guilty party.

Some crimes fall under both categories of tort law. Battery is just one instance an intentional tort that is also a crime. In this case, the injured party may choose to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages from the defendant, whether or not the accused person has been found guilty in criminal court.

Negligence vs. Intent

Intentional tort requires the person who committed the act to do so deliberately. This sets it apart from other torts, including negligence. Negligence is defined as the failure to use proper care, which results in damage or injury to another. For instance, when two people are in a car accident, it is typically considered negligence since the offending driver failed to use proper care when operating his vehicle. On the other hand, if the accident occurred and the offending driver intended to crash into another vehicle, it would be an intentional tort.

Actual Intentional Tort Cases

Courts around the United States hear intentional tort cases on a daily basis; some, however, have help set standards for future legal decisions.

Garratt v. Dailey, 46 Wash. 2d 197, 279 P.2d 1091 (Wash. 1955)

In 1955, a young boy named Brian pulled a chair from underneath Ruth Garratt as she went to sit down. As a result of Brian’s chair-pulling, Ruth fell and broke her hip. Ruth filed a lawsuit against Brian’s family stating that he had acted intentionally, causing her personal injury. The court determined that, even though Brian did not intend to cause an injury, the act did result in the broken hip, and awarded Ruth $11,000 dollars in damages. Brian’s family appealed on the basis that 5 year-old children cannot be liable for intentional tort. The court ruled that children can indeed be held liable and that the element of intent is in place if the person knew with certainty that the act carried a risk of injury.

White v. Muniz 999 P.2d 814

Helen Everly, a resident at the Beatrice Hover Personal Care Center, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. During her time at the facility, Helen struck a personal caregiver named Sherry Muniz. As a result of the attack, Muniz brought a lawsuit against Everly’s granddaughter, Barbara White. The jury in the case found White not guilty, as Everly could not intend to injure the caregiver due to her mental incapacity.

While mental illness does not constitute a defense against an intentional tort, it is often considered in court if the illness in question prevented the defendant from knowing with certainty that the act would result in injury.

Bettel et al. v. Yim, [1978] 20 O.R. (2d)

In 1976, Howard Bettel and some friends entered Ki Yim’s store. After the boys began acting outrageously, an employee asked them to leave. Instead of immediately leaving the property, the boys went to the front of the store and began throwing wooden matches on the sidewalk. One of the matches ignited and caused a small fire inside the store. The employee and the owner of the store put out the fire and Yim grabbed Bettel with both hands to restrain him. While grabbing Bettel, Yim’s forehead hit him in the face causing severe injuries to his nose. Bettel filed a suit against Yim asking for damages due to the assault. Bettel’s father also sued for over $1,000 for medical expenses. The judge hearing the case ruled in favor of Bettel, stating that the act fell under the premise of battery. Though Yim did not intend to hit Bettel in the nose, he had knowledge that his actions could cause harm. Bettel was awarded $5,000 and his father was awarded the amount needed to cover medical expenses.

Houdek v. ThyssenKrupp Materials, N.A., Inc., 2012-Ohio-5685

In 2012, Bruce Houdek showed up for work at ThyssenKrupp’s warehouse after being assigned to light duty due to any injury. His manager instructed him to re-label products on the storage racks while sideloaders pulled the merchandise from the racks. A sideload operator named Krajacic asked the manager if it was safe to pull the products while Houdek was labeling products, to which the manager replied it was. Krajacic went about pulling merchandise from the shelf and the sideloader hit Houdek, pinning him down and breaking his leg. Houdek sued ThyssenKrupp claiming intentional tort, but the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff stating there was no evidence that the employer intended or had foreseen an injury taking place.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Attempted Battery – a threat or physical act by a person with the intention of causing harm
  • Defendant – a person accused of a crime or against whom a civil lawsuit is filed
  • Mental Anguish – negative feelings including fright, depression, anxiety, and panic. Suffering from a mental illness such as depression can also fall under the definition of mental anguish.

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