Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 19: Intentional Torts

Chapter Overviews

Intentional torts are actions taken with the intent to harm another person or another's property. The intent to harm does not have to be hostile or immoral. The law of intentional torts only requires that the person causing the harm either knew or should have known that his or her actions would result in harm.

Types of Damages  A victim of an intentional tort can recover damages. There are three types of damages—compensatory, nominal, and punitive. Damages that pay, or compensate, an injured person for being harmed are called compensatory damages. They may include costs that have resulted or are expected to result from the injury. If a plaintiff is unable to show financial loss, the jury may award nominal damages. Nominal damages involve a small amount of money that the defendant must pay in order to show that the defendant was wrong. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant whose actions were malicious, willful, or outrageous. Juries usually decide how much money is appropriate.

Torts That Injure Persons  One category of intentional torts is those that cause injury to persons. These types of torts include battery—in which a person intentionally makes contact with another person in a harmful or offensive way—and assault—which occurs when a person intentionally causes someone to fear immediate harm. Other examples of torts that injure persons are infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and defamation. Defamation includes acts that harm a person's reputation. Slander is the intentional attack on someone's reputation through spoken words that are false. Libel is intentionally writing false information to injure another person's reputation.

Torts That Harm Property  Intentional torts may harm a person's real, personal, or intellectual property. Trespass is a tort in which a person enters another person's private property without permission. A nuisance is a tort that occurs when someone interferes with your ability to use and enjoy your own property, even if the person has never physically entered your property. The tort of conversion occurs when someone unlawfully takes, damages, or interferes with another's personal property. Patents and copyrights exist to protect the ideas, inventions, and creative works of an individual. A person who interferes with someone's patent or copyright through unauthorized use of the ideas may be found guilty of the tort of infringement.

Defenses to Intentional Torts  There are certain defenses a person may use to try to prove that he or she should not be found liable for an intentional tort. These reasons include consent, privilege, self-defense, and defense of property. Consent is the most common defense to a tort. The defendant argues that the plaintiff agreed to the harmful conduct and should not be able to sue. Privilege justifies behavior that would otherwise be a tort when it serves the public interest. Self-defense and defense of property justify the use of certain force to protect one's person or property.

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