Personal injury may be caused by a person acting with the deliberate intent to injure another person. This kind of conduct may be referred to as “malicious,” “purposeful”, or “knowingly.” A person who acts intentionally and causes harm as a result will be liable for the harm caused. When someone intentionally harms another person or his or her property, an intentional tort is committed. In general, intentional torts can be classified into two groups: intentional torts against people and intentional torts against property. Among the most common intentional torts that are encountered are the following:
Infliction of Distress
Trespass to Chattels
Personal injury law protects your right to control what does or does not touch your body. An assault is an act, or threat to act, that is intended to put a person in fear of imminent non-consensual physical touching. The tort of assault protects people from the fear that they will be physically harmed. Actual physical contact is not required, and in fact, if there is physical contact, the assault becomes a battery.
Note that this is different than what many people are familiar with in the context of criminal law, where assault and battery are terms that are defined by specific criminal legislation, which defines the criminal penalties imposed for engaging in certain acts, rather than the right to monetary recovery which is governed by personal injury law.
Example: If you intentionally throw a rock at someone, and the person sees the rock being hurled toward him and is in fear of being hit, you would be liable for the tort of assault. If the rock actually hits him, the assault becomes a battery. In this example, obviously the tort of battery has greater potential liability than the tort of assault. Note that if you did not see the person and threw the rock where he was standing, there would be no assault since there would be no intent on your part. In that event, if the rock hits the person you could be liable for negligence, but not battery.
Battery is the intentional, non-consensual, harmful or offensive touching of another person, either by or put in motion by the perpetrator. For example, someone commits a battery if he intentionally hits another person either with his fist or with an object thrown by him. For a battery to occur, the wrongdoer must make actual physical contact with the person (or with an object connected to the person, such as clothing, a purse or the chair in which the person is sitting). Battery includes not only contact that causes physical harm, but also contact that is offensive or insulting. For example, spitting in someone’s face is a battery, as is any other contact brought about in a rude and offensive manner.
False imprisonment is the unlawful detention or restraint of another’s freedom of movement, for any length of time, without justification or consent. There are four principle elements in a false imprisonment claim:
The confinement must be without the victim’s consent. Confinement can occur in a number of ways, including using a physical barrier (locking someone in a room or tying him up) or by threats of force (threatening to kill or by holding someone at gunpoint).
There must be an intent to confine the victim.
The victim must be aware of the confinement or be harmed in some manner by it.
The victim must not be aware of any reasonable means of escape.
Example: If you intentionally trap someone in the basement of your home and lock all the doors, you have falsely imprisoned him or her. However, if there is a window that is within reach and wide enough for him or her to fit through, he or she is not falsely imprisoned because the window is a reasonable means of escape.
The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is committed when one engages in extreme and outrageous conduct that is intended to cause, and does in fact cause, severe mental anguish and distress in a victim. What constitutes “outrageous” conduct is determined by deciding whether a reasonable person of “ordinary sensibilities” would feel extreme distress under the circumstances. If the perpetrator knows, however, that the victim is a highly sensitive person, the standard for determining outrageousness is lowered. In order to recover damages in this type of case, the plaintiff must show physical manifestations of distress or some other non-psychological damage (such as loss of wages).
Example: A man threatens that if you, a garbage collector, do not pay over part of your garbage collection proceeds to he and his henchmen, he will severely beat you. Since the man’s conduct is extreme and outrageous, and since he has intended to cause you distress (which he has succeeded in doing), he is liable for infliction of mental distress.
The intent for this tort is a bit broader than for others. There are three possible types of intentions that are actionable: (1) the wrongdoer desires to cause you emotional distress; (2) the wrongdoer knows with substantial certainty that you will suffer emotional distress; or (3) the wrongdoer recklessly disregards the high probability that emotional distress will occur.
Fraud occurs when someone intentionally makes false statements to induce another person to engage in certain conduct or give up something of value. For example, if a store sold you what they claimed was a diamond ring, and you later find out it is worthless cubic zirconium, you would have a claim of fraud against the store. Misrepresentation occurs when one person makes a false statement (or impression) with the intent to deceive another person. The requirements to establish misrepresentation are similar to those required to establish fraud, and there are a number of elements that must be proven in order to recover damages in these types of cases.
The law recognizes that owners of property have inherent rights, perhaps the most important being the right to the “exclusive” use of their property. A defendant will be liable for trespass if he or she enters the plaintiff’s property without the plaintiff’s consent and interferes with the landowner’s exclusive right to use the land.
As generally used, “trespass” occurs when either: (1) a person intentionally enters another’s land, without permission; (2) a person remains on another’s land without the continued permission to be there, even if he entered rightfully; or (3) a person puts an object on (or refuses to remove an object from) another’s land without permission. Note that the term “trespass” refers only to intentional interference with another’s interest in property. If one accidentally enters another’s land, this is generally not trespass.
For example, a burglar who intentionally enters someone’s home commits trespass. On the other hand, if you have an unexpected epileptic seizure while driving your car and end up driving across someone else’s lawn – causing damage to the property – you are not liable for trespass.
“Chattel” refers to items of personal property such as a car, pet or jewelry. A wrongdoer commits trespass to chattel if he or she intentionally possesses someone else’s property without their consent–even if only for a brief period of time. Courts require that some sort of actual harm results from the trespass to chattel.
Example: If you take your friend’s new car for a joy ride without his authorization and during the course of your ride you dent the back fender, you have committed a trespass to chattel.
Conversion is an intentional interference with another’s possession or ownership of property that is significant enough such that the interfering party is required to pay for the property’s full value.
Example: Sam borrows Mike’s lawnmower but never returns it despite Mike’s requests. Sam will be liable to pay damages to Mike under the theory of conversion. Note that this is a civil remedy which differs from any penalty imposed upon Sam under the criminal law of theft.