Intentional Torts vs. Negligence

You have been injured and you want to file a lawsuit to seek fair compensation. If you have reason to believe that the offending act was committed on purpose and not the result of an accident or neglect, then you may have an intentional tort. But what is the difference between intentional torts and negligence?

What is an Intentional Tort?

intentional tort

Intentional torts (or “willful misconduct” per King vs. Breach, 1998) are civil cases involving legal wrongs that were committed intentionally or calculated, as opposed to the result of carelessness or an accident. Many intentional torts may be accompanied by criminal charges filed against the defendant by a prosecutor.

There are a wide variety of actions that can potentially justify the pursuit of an intentional tort, such as assault. For example, in Pennsylvania, a simple assault involves an attempt by the defendant to cause you bodily injury, to negligently cause injury with a deadly weapon, or cause you to be in fear of imminent injury. Another example is false imprisonment or false arrest, where the defendant intentionally restrained you without a legal right to do so. Emotional distress can be a factor if the plaintiff intentionally caused you extreme distress or fear through conduct considered extreme or outrageous. Intentional torts are not just limited to these types of crimes, however.

One of the key aspects of an intentional tort is the ability to demonstrate that intent was involved. In fact, the most common defenses against intentional torts are that the defendant was acting in self-defense or with your permission.

What is a Negligence Tort?

Negligent car accident

Negligence-based torts do not involve an intentional act to cause harm or distress. As the name implies, these lawsuits focus on neglect and carelessness on the part of the defendant. While intentional torts focus on proving that the defendant’s behavior was on purpose, negligence torts have slightly different requirements: it must be demonstrated that the defendant had a legal obligation to you related to duty of care, that there was a breach of this duty of care, and that damages resulted from the defendant’s negligence.

There are many examples of negligence torts. Some fall under the category of medical negligence or malpractice, in which a healthcare professional would be the defendant and had a duty of care towards you as a patient but, because of negligence, you suffered an injury. Another example are lawsuits involving car accidents, where the defendant’s careless driving and failure to follow driving laws resulted in your injury or damage to your vehicle.

How do Intentional Torts and Negligence Torts Differ?

The key difference between these torts lies in whether the defendant’s act was deliberate. For example, suppose you knocked at a neighbor’s door. Inside, they have a dog with a reputation for inflicting serious bites. When they open the door, the dog bursts out, knocking you down and biting you in the process. The bites require medical treatment and stitches, and also resulted in some lost days at work due to the seriousness and location of the bite. 

If this tort were approached as an intentional tort, you would need to prove that the defendant purposely released their dog in an attempt to intimidate or harm you. On the other hand, as a negligence tort, the focus of the case would involve proving that the defendant knew their dog was dangerous and failed to properly restrain it. Of course, the decision as to whether this is a case of negligence or intentional harm involves other complicating factors. 

Another aspect of negligence, as opposed to intentional torts, involves the nature of the wrongdoing: a criminal act such as fraud, battery, or false imprisonment implies that the act was intentional, and earlier it was pointed out that many intentional torts involve criminal charges in addition to a civil lawsuit. While there can be criminal negligence, the majority of negligence cases do not involve criminal charges.

Should I File an Intentional Tort Lawsuit?

personal injury

Deciding whether to pursue an intentional tort or a case of negligence requires the knowledge and experience of a personal injury lawyer. Each individual case has its own factors that must be taken into consideration, and each type of intentional tort has certain aspects that must be proven in order to be successful. But in all intentional tort lawsuits, you must be able to demonstrate that the defendant was acting with intent.

Sacchetta & Baldino

If you are considering a personal injury lawsuit, the experienced attorneys at Sacchetta & Baldino can counsel you on whether an intentional tort or negligence lawsuit would be more appropriate for your case given your circumstances. We focus exclusively on personal injury lawsuits, including medical malpractice, construction site accidents, premises liability, vehicular accidents, and even dog bites. Our team of lawyers will fight for you to receive the compensation that the law says you deserve. Contact us today to find out what we can do for you.