An intentional act can give rise to a personal injury claim, but proving the case can be tricky. Many civil lawsuits arise over “torts,” which are acts committed by one person or business that end up causing harm to someone else. That harm can be in the form of a personal injury, damage to property, damage to reputation, or diminution in the value of something. Most torts are the result of negligence which can be broadly defined as a careless act. But there is another subsection of tort law that encompasses intentional acts, and that’s the focus of this article.
Negligence vs. Intent
Intentional torts require an element that most other torts do not. To commit an intentional tort, it follows that you must do something on purpose. This is in sharp contrast to “regular” torts, which don’t focus on intent at all. Whether the tort is intentional depends solely upon the mindset of the person committing the tort (sometimes called the “tort feasor” in legalese). For example, a car accident is just that, an accident. If neither party intended to hit the other, the case would be one of simple negligence. The offending driver had a duty not to drive his vehicle in an unsafe manner; he breached that duty by running into you, which caused you to sustain injuries and vehicle damage. All elements of a standard tort claim are met. However, if the person that hit you intended to strike your car and cause you bodily harm, he has committed the intentional tort of battery. The exact same accident with the exact same injuries has now become an intentional tort based upon the mindset of the tortfeasor. The difference between negligent and intentional conduct can be subtle, but it’s also very important to both plaintiffs and defendants in intentional tort cases. If a defendant can prove that he or she did not intend to commit the act that caused harm, they may be able to avoid liability for the plaintiff’s losses. In a regular negligence case, intent is irrelevant—and so lack of intent is not a valid personal injury defense.
Types of Intentional Torts
There are several common types of intentional torts. Fraud, misrepresentation, defamation, and false imprisonment are all usually considered intentional torts. So, too are assault and battery, and sometimes a wrongful death claim can arise from the commission of an intentional tort. Fraud occurs when someone commits an intentional, deceptive act to either benefit personally or to damage another party. Slander and libel involve intentionally making a false statement that ends up damaging the reputation of another. Slander involves verbal statements, while libel deals with published written statements. (Note: slander and libel, which are different types of defamation, are sometimes referred to as “quasi-intentional” torts because it isn’t always necessary to establish the mindset of the defendant in these kinds of claims.) False imprisonment occurs when one party intentionally restricts the freedom of another. Assault and battery are closely related. An assault is an intentional act that places another person in apprehension of harm, whether or not harm actually occurs. Raising your fist to another person in anger even if you don’t throw a punch might amount to assault, as long as the other person actually believes that they are in danger of being hit. Battery is the next step. You’ve committed battery if you throw and connect with the punch. Battery is defined as harmful or offensive contact with the body of another. Civil assault and battery are often grouped together. Wrongful death claims arise when one party claims that the negligent or intentional actions of another caused injuries resulting in death. Assault, battery and wrongful death are all civil actions, but like many intentional torts, they may also for the basis for a crime depending upon the laws of the jurisdiction.
Intentional Torts vs. Crimes
Many intentional torts are also crimes. The difference between the two is subtle but very important. A tort (intentional or otherwise) can result in a civil suit. This is a lawsuit brought by one private citizen against another. The loser of a civil suit may be found “liable,” and can be subject to a judgment ordering the payment of monetary damages to the prevailing party. Even wrongful death or battery cases involve monetary damages. Crimes are very different. Criminal proceedings are brought by the state government against a party accused of violating a criminal statute. Criminal cases are not about damages. They are about protecting the public welfare and punishing wrongdoers for their transgressions. Battery is a prime example of an act that is often both an intentional tort and a crime. State and federal law classifies battery as a crime. A party accused of battery can stand trial, and if a jury of their peers finds that all the elements of criminal battery have been met, and the person is guilty of battery beyond a reasonable doubt, incarceration can occur. Regardless of the outcome of criminal proceedings, the battered party may file a civil suit seeking monetary damages from the accused.
Types of “Intentional Tort” Personal Injury Cases
Most injury-related civil cases stem from accidents, but intentional tort cases arise when one person purposefully harms another. Intentional torts are harms committed by one person against another, where the underlying act was done on purpose (as opposed to harm resulting from negligence, such as injuries caused by a car crash or some other kind of accident). Civil lawsuits for intentional torts generally allege that the person being sued (the defendant) harmed the plaintiff (the person filing the personal injury lawsuit) by committing assault, battery, false imprisonment, conversion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud/deceit, trespass (to land and property), and defamation. Some courts will also hear an intentional tort case where the defendant intended to commit the act that harmed the plaintiff, but none of the preexisting categories fit the facts. Let’s take a closer look at the different kinds of conduct that can lead to an intentional tort lawsuit. (To understand the differences between these kinds of claims and those based on an accident, learn more about intentional torts versus negligence-based injury cases.)
Assault and Battery
Assault and battery are two closely related, but usually distinct, claims in a civil case. An assault takes place when one person acts intentionally in a way that causes another person to reasonably apprehend (or fear) an immediate harmful or offensive contact. A battery takes place when the defendant’s intentional act actually causes offensive or harmful contact with the plaintiff. So, an assault involves the threat of harmful contact, while a battery involves the actual harmful or offensive touching itself. Assault and battery can also form the basis of a criminal case.
False Imprisonment and False Arrest
A defendant may be liable for false imprisonment when he or she detains the plaintiff or confines his or her freedom of movement, through actual use of force or a threat of force. False arrest, which is sometimes considered a type of false imprisonment, occurs when the defendant unlawfully detains the plaintiff at the time of arrest, while false imprisonment could be the result of an unlawful detention after a legal arrest or an unlawful detention unaccompanied by an arrest. Note that anybody (a store owner, a private security guard) can be liable for false imprisonment and false arrest, not merely police officers or other authorities.
Conversion is the civil law equivalent of theft. A conversion occurs when the defendant “exercises dominion and control” over the plaintiff’s property without the plaintiff’s permission. Conversion occurs regardless of whether the defendant returned the property to the plaintiff, although damages will depend on how long the plaintiff was deprived of the property and whether the property was lost or destroyed.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Intentional infliction of emotional distress typically occurs when the defendant intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to the plaintiff by engaging in “extreme or outrageous” conduct. Extreme or outrageous conduct is impossible to define in exact terms, and will generally be left for the jury or judge to decide, but it is broadly described as going beyond all possible grounds of decency and being utterly intolerable in a civilized community.
Fraud is a very broad term that is used to describe a variety of cons, misrepresentations, misstatements, scams, etc. “Deceit” is a more specific type of fraud generally used to describe a defendant’s intentional act of making a harmful misrepresentation to the plaintiff.
A trespass occurs when the defendant intentionally enters the plaintiff’s land or interferes with the plaintiff’s ownership of property. Trespass is an older category of case law and in many states has been replaced by categories like conversion. To be liable, the defendant does not need to know that he or she will enter, or cause an object to enter, the plaintiff’s land or property—the plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendant intentionally committed the act that led to the entry.
A defendant can be liable for defamation when she or he makes a false statement of fact (as opposed to opinion) about the plaintiff, to one or more people, and that causes harm or damage the plaintiff (or to the plaintiff’s reputation). Learn more about defamation of character.
“Catch-All” Intentional Tort
Some states recognize a “catch-all” intentional tort when the facts of the case do not fit any of the other intentional tort categories discussed above. Although the exact requirements vary from state to state, the plaintiff must typically prove that the defendant harmed the plaintiff and that he or she acted intentionally in doing so. Some states require that the defendant not merely intend to commit the act that led to the harm, but that the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff.
Compensation For Personal Injury in Utah
Personal injury in Utah legal claims for monetary compensation must be based on specific theory, of compensation. These theories are known as “torts”. Most personal injury cases are based on one of the following torts: “intentional” “negligence” “strict liability”.
Personal Injury in Utah Negligence
Negligence is the more common legal theory on which valid personal injury in Utah legal claims are based. One reason, of course, is that insurance companies will pay for injuries caused by negligence. And, let’s face it, personal injury attorneys like myself, are doing this to earn our daily bread.
Negligence is made up of four elements:
• Breach of duty
• Damages (injury).
The “duty” is to act with reasonable care or ordinary care. Duty can be established by statute: for example, Utah traffic laws require a driver to stop at red lights. Running a red light violates the law and therefore is considered to be a “breach of duty”. Causation, of course, under Utah injury accident legal principles means that the breach of duty caused your injuries. If you already had a stiff neck, well then the accident didn’t cause the injuries. Insurance companies hire lawyers known as “insurance defense attorneys”. These lawyers are experts at making juries believe injured people are faking it. They will expend numerous hours and great effort to locate past medical records of claimants. Then these records are reviewed by medical doctors who make a lot of money working for insurance companies. Lo and behold, these doctors always offer an opinion that the claimant is not injured or if he is injured, the injuries did not come from the accident in question. Juries like insurance defense attorneys because they dress well, come from large prominent law firms, give the jurors a reason to not award money.
Personal Injury in Utah Strict Liability
“Strict liability” shows up most often in product liability cases–dangerous products. Strict liability, under personal injury in Utah legal principles, means damages can be awarded without negligence (duty and breach of duty.) Utah laws says a manufacturer of a product can be liable if its product has defects in workmanship, parts or other problems which cause the product to be defective when it leaves the manufacturer’s hands. If the product is defective, then all others in the distribution chain (wholesaler, retailer) are also liable.
Intentional torts: civil cases vs. criminal cases
The elements of an intentional tort may overlap with the elements of a crime for the same conduct. A prosecution for a crime ordinarily does not bar a lawsuit for an intentional tort being filed against the same defendant. The state must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the defendant to be found guilty of a crime. In a civil case, the burden of proof is usually by a preponderance of evidence (more likely than not) or clear and convincing evidence. This is why there have been cases where a defendant who was found not guilty by a jury in a criminal case was held liable for damages in a separate civil case. Sometimes intentional torts may also overlap. For example, a plaintiff may file a cause of action for both assault and battery because they allege that the defendant both placed them in fear of being struck and also that the defendant actually struck them, causing physical injuries. A claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress may be filed along with other claims based on the mental anguish suffered by the plaintiff.
Free Consultation with an Intentional Tort Lawyer
When you need legal help with Intentional Torts in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506