A legal comparison of negligence and intentional tort

Tort law, which covers situations in which one person is wrongfully harmed or injured by another person (or organization), divides wrongdoing into intentional torts and unintentional ones, which usually take the form of negligence. The essential difference between negligence and intentional torts is that intentional torts occur when the guilty party deliberately seeks to harm someone else, while negligence occurs when they do not intend to do so but fail to take reasonably obvious actions which could have prevented the injury from occurring.

Intentional torts can be committed either against people or against their property. Significantly, a person or a company can be found guilty of committing an intentional tort in a civil lawsuit even if they did not expect to cause as severe an injury as the one they actually inflicted. In extreme cases, this is known as the eggshell skull rule. All that is required is that the defendant (that is, the party accused of wrongdoing) intended to commit the unlawful action in the first place, and is therefore responsible for the consequences.

Common types of intentional torts against a person include assault, battery, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. False imprisonment applies to any situation in which someone is unlawfully restrained either by force or by an abuse of authority. This is not limited to the police or prison officials – in fact, as long as they are acting in good faith on what they believe to be reasonable evidence, the police generally are not considered to be committing false imprisonment.

In addition, most intentional torts against property take the form of trespassing. Trespassing usually means entering private property without permission of the owner. However, the same laws also cover what is referred to as trespass to chattels, or taking and using someone else’s personal possessions without permission. Nuisance laws are also a form of intentional tort.

In contrast to the above, unintentional tort or negligence law covers situations in which a person or organization should have reasonably foreseen the possibility of an injury and taken steps to prevent it, but for some reason failed to do so. Whether negligence has occurred depends on the specific case law and legislation in different jurisdictions. The injuries suffered as a result of negligence or an intentional tort may be the same. However, the law divides situations based upon the presence or absence of intent to cause the injury.

In general, however, a negligence claim has three aspects. First, there must be what is known as a duty of care: that is, the defendant must have had an obligation toward the plaintiff to take precautions against injury. Second, that obligation was breached. Third, the breach of the duty of care was the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injury. For example, although an automobile collision resulting in injuries is usually unintentional, one driver might have been negligent if the crash occurred because they were distracted by something unrelated to driving, like talking on a cellular phone. Negligence may also cover a variety of situations which contribute indirectly to injury, like a medical office failing to maintain proper records or make necessary referrals to other specialists.