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Learn what qualifies as an intentional tort and how you may recover damages
After you or a loved one is the victim of a crime, your stress level is high. A rush of emotions probably flood your mind each day, and you may feel as though you deserve some degree of restitution. Criminal charges are likely to be inflicted, but what about compensating you for your losses? Medical bills, time off from work, property damage, pain and suffering, etc.
Many people don’t realize that a personal injury lawsuit helps victims recover financially from whatever harm a criminal act caused. This personal injury claim is called an “intentional tort,” and the right personal injury attorney can win you the damages you deserve.
What is an intentional tort?
“Intentional tort” is a phrase typically reserved for legal professionals. Most people without any legal training have never heard the term, though it’s a very a simple definition. An intentional tort is any deliberate act causing harm to a person or property.
When a person commits an intentional tort, their insurance won’t cover the damages that the victim demands. For example, if a person deliberately pushes their guest down the stairs, homeowner’s insurance won’t cover the guest’s medical bills. The guilty party (or “tortfeasor” as legal jargon dictates) will have to pay for the injuries out of pocket if ordered to do so via a personal injury lawsuit.
What are examples of intentional torts?
It’s fair to say that most crimes can also be considered an intentional tort. Below are some of the most common intentional torts that result in a personal injury cases:
- Invasion of privacy
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Property damage
- Wrongful death/manslaughter/homicide
- Sexual abuse/sexual assault
Though the above are easily identified as crimes, some states also have a “catch-all” provision. This means that as long as a deliberate act caused harm to you or your property, you can sue to recover the money you lost due to the incident. If you’re not sure as to whether or not you’re eligible for a personal injury claim from an intentional tort, we encourage you to consult with an attorney.
Does the person have to be found guilty of a crime for me to recover damages?
Many people worry that if the defendant was declared not guilty in a criminal trial, that a civil lawsuit isn’t possible. That isn’t true, and though a guilty verdict helps your case, you can still recover damages without one.
The key distinction with intentional tort cases lies with the burden of proof. In a criminal case, the defendant must be guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This standard is particularly high, and is one of the key reasons why many cases have hung juries. Civil cases, however, only require a “preponderance of evidence.” This is a lesser standard, though the right evidence and attorney are needed to ensure a plaintiff’s ability to receive compensation.
This difference in the burden of proof is precisely how O.J. Simpson received two different verdicts. There wasn’t enough evidence to convict him in criminal court, but the civil trial awarded the victims’ families damages for the same alleged incident.
How are intentional torts different from negligence cases?
In many ways, an intentional tort lawsuit is the same as a negligence claim. The primary difference is that an intentional tort occurs when a person intended to harm the plaintiff. Negligence claims are due to accidents and/or a person’s careless or reckless acts. Some personal injury claims may start out as an intentional tort case, but the judge or jury will decide if the defendant’s actions were negligent instead of deliberate. Either way, if the ruling is in favor of the plaintiff, damages will be awarded.
Another possible distinction between intentional tort and negligence claims is the defendant is more likely to be penalized via punitive damages in intentional tort cases. Punitive damages are different from other damages because punitive damages aren’t to compensate the plaintiff for any bills or other losses. Instead, punitive damages are designed to inflict a financial penalty on the defendant. Punitive damages are also intended to prevent others from committing the same wrongdoing.
Negligence cases may also result in punitive damages, but these damages are much more likely in intentional tort cases. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 30% of intentional tort lawsuits received punitive damages versus 1% of automobile accidents, premises liability claims and medical malpractice cases.
Intentional tort liability
With intentional torts, there are different types of liability. As a result, each case may be presented a little differently and the liable parties may vary. The most common forms of liability include:
Liability against the tortfeasor
This liability appears in the majority of intentional tort lawsuits. Here, the injured party sues the person who committed the harmful act. As explained above, your attorney will try to demonstrate that the defendant intended to cause you harm. If intent is lacking, then it’s likely that your case will either be dismissed or the defendant will be deemed negligent.
These cases are very similar to general tortfeasor liability claims. The distinction, however, is that the defendant didn’t mean to cause harm to you but was still committing a harmful act. In other words, the act was meant for another victim. For example, if the defendant tried to shoot someone else but the bullet hit you instead, their intent “transfers” to you. Thus, you could sue the defendant for an intentional tort and recover the damages connected to your injury, despite the fact that you weren’t the intended target.
Vicarious liability is most common in employment law cases, as this form of liability allows you to sue the employer of whomever caused you harm. With intentional tort cases, however, the employer may only be sued if the tortfeasor’s action occurred within the scope of employment. If, for example, a nurse sexually assaulted a patient while at a hospital, the hospital could be held liable for the nurse’s actions. If the nurse committed sexual assault at her home with a non-patient, then the hospital can’t be sued.
Another form of vicarious liability pertains to parents. In some states, a parent could be held liable if their child commits an intentional tort. The laws vary by state in terms of the specific crime and the age of the child, and you would need to consult a personal injury attorney to see if you could recover damages from the parents.
In most situations, strict liability doesn’t pertain to intentional torts. Strict liability typically arises when a person knowingly performs a dangerous act that harms another. Failure to properly handle hazardous waste or keeping a dangerous animal as a pet are frequently cited as examples of strict liability.
Strict liability is on this list, however, because some victims may confuse a strict liability case with an intentional tort. For instance, if a manufacturer knowingly sells someone a dangerous product, this may seem to be an example of fraud. Instead, many states will consider the act to be strict liability instead of an intentional tort.
It’s not important that you try to properly label your potential lawsuit, however. If you were injured by someone else’s deliberate actions, consult with a personal injury attorney. The right attorney will be able to explain your rights and help you pursue the most damages possible.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.