What Is an Intentional Tort?
A tort is a legal harm; therefore, an intentional tort is something done deliberately to cause harm. The harm can be a physical injury, death, a loss of or damage to property, emotional distress, a violation of rights, or a combination of those adverse outcomes. A person or a legal entity like a corporation can commit a tort and be found to have acted with intent. Victims of intentional torts are usually individuals, but groups can also claim to have suffered similar harms from a single action or set of related actions.
Importantly, people victimized by intentional torts have the legal right to sue for damages in civil court. The process is similar to filing a personal injury lawsuit for compensation following a car accident, but the actual experience of pursuing an intentional tort claim is much different. The difference stems largely from having to show intent. Settling an insurance claim or getting awarded punitive damages after getting hit by another driver requires showing that the person was negligent or reckless–distracted or drunk, for instance. In an intentional tort case, the plaintiff must convince an arbitrator, judge, or jury that the defendant meant to hurt or otherwise harm the plaintiff.
Another factor is that many actions that give rise to intentional tort lawsuits constitute serious crimes. That can be a good or a bad thing. On the positive side, criminal investigations and prosecutions generate mountains of physical evidence, witness testimony, and court records that can be used in various ways in the course of an intentional tort case. That benefit can turn into a potential negative, however, because criminal proceedings can exhaust a victim to the point that he or she simply decides that seeking monetary compensation in civil court is not worth it. Also, proof of conviction cannot be presented against a defendant in an intentional tort case.
Consulting with an experienced Ohio personal injury lawyer in the Cleveland offices of Agee Clymer Mitchell and Portman can help you understand more about intentional torts and if filing a claim makes sense. To help you determine if making an initial call to us is in your best interest, consider the following information.
Any Tort Can Be Intentional
Imagine any way to hurt a person or destroy their property, and you can rest assured–if uncomfortably–that someone has done that thing, and often several someones and repeatedly. We define the most common types of intentional tort cases elsewhere on our website, but the brief list looks like this:
- Assault and battery, both threatening and causing physical harm
- False imprisonment, including kidnapping and taking someone into police custody improperly
- Libel and slander, known collectively as defamation
- Infliction of emotional distress, including sending hate mail and bullying
- Invasion of privacy, including peeping and identity theft
Proving an Intentional Tort Can Be Difficult
Succeeding as a plaintiff in an intentional tort lawsuit requires showing at least four things:
- An action was taken that caused an injury or loss.
- You, as the plaintiff, actually suffered the injury or loss.
- The person or organization named as the defendant took the action that harmed you.
- The defendant knew the action would cause the injury or loss to the plaintiff.
The fourth criterion has some leeway; for example, sometimes a plaintiff and his or her attorney only need to show that the defendant had every reason to suspect that the action would cause substantial harm but not necessarily the actual harm claimed. An example where this lower standard might apply is a claim for burn injuries against an alleged arsonist who set a building on fire when he thought it was unoccupied.
Establishing intent to harm can involve presenting a history of verbal or written threats prior to the harmful act, establishing what courts call animus (e.g., racism, personal hatred), or describing previous harmful actions the defendant took against the plaintiff. For a corporate defendant, proof of intent could include company records documenting executives’ knowledge that they were harming customers. Such evidence is essential to establishing intent, and a plaintiff who cannot produce it generally will not win an intentional tort case.
People hurt at work also must know that a relatively recent revision to Ohio law and a series of rulings by the Supreme Court of Ohio have made bringing intentional tort claims against employers virtually impossible. Regardless of how an on-the-job injury or occupational illness occurs, seeking workers’ compensation benefits and other kinds of disability payments is always a better option for an injured or ill employee.
Ask Us Your Intentional Tort Questions
We know we cannot address every important issue concerning intentional torts in a blog post. Call Agee Clymer Mitchell and Portman (800) 678-3318 or reach out online to connect with an Ohio plaintiff’s attorney who can help you learn more about these types of civil lawsuits and whether you have a case. Initial consultations cost you nothing.