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Personal Injury

Is Negligence an Intentional Tort?

April 25, 2022

When filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit, many victims ask our accident lawyers, “Is negligence an intentional tort?” Although both types of actions can result in the victim recovering compensation for his or her losses, negligence and intentional torts fall into two legally different categories. A tort refers to a wrongful act that violates a person’s rights, peace, and safety, resulting in legal liability. A negligent tort happens when a person performs a wrongful action due to a failure to exercise reasonable care or caution. An intentional tort arises when a person commits a wrongful action deliberately.  

You need to know how to differentiate negligent torts from intentional torts when you are taking legal action to recover compensation. A personal injury lawyer will examine the details of your case and properly classify your claim. The lawyer can help you determine the best legal options and what to expect throughout the claim process. 

What Is Negligence? 

Negligence is a failure to act with a reasonable level of care and caution. A person is deemed to have acted negligently when the person does not use reasonable care, and his or her actions cause harm to another person. 

Everyone must behave in ways that guarantee the safety and peace of others. When a violation of that duty of care causes an injury to another person, the negligent person is liable for the victim’s damages. A viable negligence claim must satisfy the following four elements. 

  • Duty of Care: The defendant had a duty to exercise sufficient care and caution. A health care provider, for instance, has a duty to handle and treat a patient with the level of skill, care, and caution that another competent provider under similar circumstances would exercise. 
  • Breach of Duty: The defendant did not act with reasonable care as required.
  • Causation: This failure caused harm (an injury or financial loss) to the plaintiff. 
  • Damages: The plaintiff suffered physical, psychological, or property damages due to the defendant’s actions. 

What Is an Intentional Tort? 

An intentional tort is a deliberate wrongful action that harms a person. In an intentional tort case, the defendant purposely committed the act that caused your injuries. For example, an intentional tort claim can arise when workplace assault turns deadly

Theft, trespassing, and unlawful imprisonment fall under intentional torts as well. Deliberate infliction of emotional suffering is another example of an intentional tort. This tort happens when a person intentionally performs an act to cause someone else extreme fear. 

The Difference Between Negligence and an Intentional Tort 

Negligence occurs when a person does not use sufficient caution to satisfy the required standard of care. An intentional tort happens when a person’s wrongful actions are deliberate. That is the main difference between these two types of torts in tort law. 

A defendant in an intentional tort claim might not have aimed for all the damages that arose. But the actions that caused the plaintiff to suffer losses were purposeful. The defendant in assault and battery cases, for instance, hits the victim intentionally. 

Most car accidents fall under negligence torts. In most cases, the other driver does not intend to hit you. Instead, the driver commits a driving error that results in a crash. If a driver hits you or your car on purpose, then that driver has committed an intentional tort. 

When you have a viable negligence or intentional tort claim, you might think about when to hire an injury lawyer in Chicago. The consensus is that you should bring an injury attorney on board right after an accident or incident. 

Recovering Damages in Intentional Tort Cases 

In most cases, civil proceedings aim to compensate victims of wrongful acts for the expenses or losses suffered. Damages are monetary compensation awarded to victims of harmful actions. Victims receive compensation through civil trials or settlement proceedings. 

The type and amount of recoverable damages vary with the type of tort. Intentional tort cases usually generate higher amounts of damages than negligence lawsuits. You must prove that the defendant’s wrongful actions were deliberate to recover damages in an intentional tort claim. 

An intentional tort claim can result in compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages seek to provide you with enough money to cover the losses stemming from the defendant’s wrongful actions. Illinois courts award punitive damages to discourage people from harming others on purpose.   

A personal injury lawyer can help you determine the value of your claim and help make sure you receive a fair settlement. 

Monetary damages are available even in cases where the victim gets killed due to the defendant’s intentional actions. In that case, a wrongful death attorney can help the victim’s family pursue proper compensation from the liable defendant. The attorney will examine the wrongful death case and the family’s situation to determine the monetary damages that would fully compensate the family for the loss. 

The Doctrine of Joint and Several Liability

Another aspect that differentiates negligence from intentional torts is how defendants cover the damages they cause. The legal doctrine of joint and several liability holds each defendant independently responsible for the full extent of your damages. Joint and several liabilities apply in intentional tort cases. 

In a negligence lawsuit, each defendant is responsible for paying only his or her share of the damages. In an intentional tort, all the defendants are independently and jointly liable for all the damages suffered by the victim. 

Let’s say you got injured in a car accident caused by the negligent actions of two drivers. Driver A rear-ended your vehicle, and Driver B ignored the stop sign. The jury assigned 35% liability to Driver A and 65% fault to Driver B. 

In this case, Driver A will cover 35% of your damages, while Driver B pays 65%. If Driver A delays in paying the judgment, you typically cannot require Driver B to pay that amount. In other words, each driver covers only the damages apportioned to him or her by the Jury. 

Let’s now look at a scenario where two drivers both hit you intentionally, and you suffer injuries due to their actions. In this scenario, each defendant must cover all the damages and seek reimbursement from one another for any overpaid amount. You will not end up with a double recovery, however. 

Intentional Torts vs. Crimes         

Many wrongful actions can qualify both as intentional torts and crimes. Battery and assault are examples of intentional torts that can also qualify as crimes. Criminal defendants found guilty of assault and battery can face a variety of penalties, depending on the extent of harm caused to the victim and the defendants’ criminal records. 

These penalties include restraining or protective orders, probation, jail time, and fines. The outcome of criminal trials does not prevent the battered or assaulted party from pursuing compensation from the accused through a civil suit. 

The state prosecuting attorney brings criminal proceedings against a party or entity charged with breaking a criminal law. Criminal proceedings do not focus on damages. Instead, they focus on ensuring the safety and peace of the public by punishing offenders for their wrongful actions.

On the other hand, an intentional tort leads to a civil lawsuit. If the defendant is liable in a civil suit, the court orders the defendant to pay monetary damages to the plaintiff. A private attorney brings a civil lawsuit on behalf of a plaintiff or victim of an intentional tort or negligence. 

How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help Your Case 

An injury lawyer can help you determine whether your injury claim is based on negligence or if it is an intentional tort. Your lawyer can provide a comprehensive answer to your “what is tort law?” question. 

A lawyer can review your case and help you pinpoint specific statutes that apply in your case. The lawyer can also discuss the strategies that would help you build a strong injury claim. This legal advice and support will enable you to stand a better chance of winning a civil suit in Illinois courts and recovering maximum damages.

About The Author

Photo of Jeffrey M. Goldberg
Attorney Jeffrey M. Goldberg, founder of Goldberg & Schulkin Law Offices, has spent his entire professional career handling cases involving birth injury, medical malpractice, product liability, aviation and related accidents.