Types of Personal Injury Claims: Intentional Torts

Previously, we discussed the most common and well known type of personal injury claim – that of negligence. However, you can also bring a civil claim for injuries in situations in which negligence was not involved. One type of claim you can bring is a claim of injury caused by an intentional tort. An intentional tort is pretty much what it sounds like – where the plaintiff is suing for something the defendant did intentionally. That intent will sometimes have to be specific, but sometimes can be general. Specific intent means the defendant intended to commit the act and intended the consequences. For example, the defendant may have intended to punch someone in the face and intended that it result in a broken nose. If he said “I’m going to break your nose,” that might be a good indicator of specific intent. On the other hand, general intent means the action was intentional but the consequences weren’t – however, the defendant probably knew generally that something bad would result. For example, the defendant punched someone in the face, knowing that it would likely cause some kind of injury, perhaps a broken nose or black eye.

The advantage of claiming an intentional tort is that it may be easier to prove than negligence, because you don’t have to prove duty, breach, cause, and harm. On the other hand, the disadvantage is that intentional torts have much narrower definitions, so often don’t apply to the situation that caused a person’s injuries.

Some common intentional torts are:

  • battery: an unwanted touching. This is often thought of as violent, but any kind of touching commonly agreed to be offensive may qualify as a battery.
  • assault: people commonly confuse this with battery, because they tend to be found together. However, an assault is either 1) an attempt to commit a battery, such as swinging your fist at someone but missing, or 2) threatening to commit a battery, such as saying, “I’m going to break your nose.”
  • false imprisonment: imprisoning someone when you don’t have the right to do so. It doesn’t require a physical prison; force or threat of force to keep someone in a location can qualify as false imprisonment as well.
  • intentional infliction of emotional distress: this is a difficult tort to prove, as it has four elements: 1) intent 2) outrageous/extreme conduct 3) that causes 4) severe emotional distress. Severe emotional distress is especially difficult to prove, and some states may require there be physical manifestations.  You may recognize this tort from the recent Supreme Court case involving the Westboro Baptist Church’s funeral pickets. In that case, the Supreme Court had to balance free speech rights with the right to sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

You may notice something else about intentional torts: often, the action is illegal as well as being something for which an individual can sue. Even if there’s a pending criminal case involving the defendant, or even if the defendant was acquitted of criminal charges, you can still sue for the same act. The bar to prove a civil case is lower than that of a criminal case. Perhaps the most famous example is OJ Simpson who was acquitted of criminal charges but lost his civil case, resulting in a judgment of $25 million in civil damages.

If you’ve been injured by someone acting intentionally or negligently, contact us. We can review your case and offer options going forward.

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