What is an Intentional Tort?

A tort is defined as an act committed by one party that causes harm to another, including physical injury, property damage, or even damage to one’s reputation. Torts typically stem from negligence, i.e. the careless disregard for someone else’s well-being. Most torts do not deal with intent whatsoever—rather, they focus on the harm caused and who was at fault in the incident.

However, some torts go beyond simple negligence.  An intentional tort is an act committed with the intention of causing harm. What separates an intentional tort from any other tort is the mindset of the party at fault. For example, say someone rear-ends you at a stop light because he was distracted by a phone call; this would constitute a regular tort. But instead, say the driver was upset because you accidentally cut him off in traffic. To retaliate, he sped to catch up with you and sideswiped your car on purpose; this would constitute an intentional tort because the other driver clearly meant to cause harm.

The most difficult aspect of intentional torts is proving that the other party did, in fact, intend to cause you harm. In most personal injury cases, intent is irrelevant. But in an intentional tort, intent is everything. If the at-fault party can claim he or she did not actually intend to commit the harmful act, they could escape liability for the harm caused.

Some common examples of intentional torts are:

  • Fraud: an intentional, deceptive representation of a matter of fact, whether by words or conduct, false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of necessary information
  • Misrepresentation: an assertion (either by words or conduct) that is not true to the facts
  • Slander: oral defamation in which someone spreads an untruth about another person, knowing the untruth will harm the reputation of the other person
  • Libel: publishing an untruth about someone else that will cause harm to that person or his or her representation
  • False imprisonment: the illegal confinement of one individual against his or her will, violating the confined person’s right to be free from restraint of movement
  • Assault: the threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause harm
  • Battery: harmful or offensive contact with someone else

Certain intentional torts also qualify as crimes, such as assault, battery, and fraud. In these cases, the guilty party could face criminal proceedings brought by the state as well as a civil lawsuit brought by the injured party. It is entirely possible that the party at fault could be cleared of criminal charges but still be found liable in civil court; the burden of proof is lower in civil trials, so the negligent person(s) could be required to pay damages, regardless of guilt in criminal court.

Proving intent is perhaps the most difficult aspect of an intentional tort. Because the at-fault party rarely expresses harmful intent in writing or out loud, you are left trying to prove what the other party was thinking or feeling. However, if you can prove intent, you could be eligible to win punitive damages as well as normal compensatory damages.

If you believe you have grounds for an intentional tort (or simply want to learn more about the process), call Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi at (201) 585-9111 or contact us online.