The Key Differences between Intentional and Negligence Torts Every Plaintiff Must Know

By Peter DePaolis

When another person injures you or someone you love, the conduct of the defendant falls into a category known as “torts.” Torts are wrongful acts that harm another person. Torts typically involve intentional or negligent acts.

While both are torts, how they are handled and the expected compensation can vary. Therefore, you should consult with an attorney to see how your case might progress and to get a better understanding of which area your case falls under. In the meantime, we will discuss the fundamental differences.

What is the difference between Intentional Torts and Unintentional Negligence Torts?

How your case proceeds depends on the type of tort you allege in your injury case. Again, you should consult with an attorney before assuming that your case qualifies for one of the following types:

What are “Torts of Negligence”?

Personal injury claims typically base themselves on negligence. Negligence is when a person falls below the reasonable, acceptable standard of care for protecting those around them. A critical difference between a negligence-based claim and an intentional-based claim is the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the accident.

Negligent people do not intend to hurt someone with their actions, but they are still responsible for those actions because their careless or reckless behavior caused serious injury.

The Four Elements of Negligence-Based Torts

To file and win a negligence-based tort, you must prove that four elements exist:

  1. The defendant owed you a duty of care. The duty of care refers to the expected behavior of a reasonable person in a similar situation to the defendant. It requires that the defendant, when exercising ordinary care, would do what they can to prevent harm or unnecessary injury. Determining if the defendant owed you a duty comes down to the specific situation.
  2. The defendant breached his or her duty of care. The defendant breached the expected standard of care, whether it was an omission or a specific act. The breach must be against something a reasonable person, or ordinarily prudent person, would do.
  3. The defendant’s breach caused your injury. Once you have established that the defendant breached their duty of care, you must then show how their breach caused injuries. The injuries must stem from the defendant’s actions. If you cannot prove that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of your injuries, you have no case.
  4. The plaintiff (the victim) has damages. Lastly, you must show you have damages. Damages are what you will be rewarded if you win your case, including compensation for medical costs, lost wages, pain, suffering, and more.

What are “Intentional Torts?”

Intentional torts are not negligence based. Instead of an action that unexpectedly leads to an injury, the defendant purposely caused your injury. Intentional torts typically stem from purposeful acts. These are cases where the defendant clearly intended to cause emotional distress, bodily harm, and knew damages would occur.

Some acts that typically qualify as an intentional tort:

  • Assault with an attempted battery or threat of injury, even if no battery takes place
  • Harmful contact with another person, even if no physical injury occurs
  • Taking someone’s property and converting it into your own
  • Unlawfully restraining someone or conducting false imprisonment
  • Defamation, such as libel or slander

Intentional and Negligence Tort Damages

What are the Damages for Intentional Torts and Negligence Torts?

All tort cases are civil cases. Therefore, if you wish to receive damages, you must file a civil lawsuit against the defendant (at-fault party). In a civil case, you seek damages (compensation) from the defendant, but you are not punishing them criminally. They may face criminal charges if they conducted an intentional tort and sometimes in cases of negligence.

The damages for negligence torts are relatively the same and come from compensatory and non-compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are those that directly repay the victim for their costs, including medical expenses, lost wages, and more. Non-compensatory damages focus on areas like pain, suffering, and emotional trauma.

Negligence torts can include punitive damages, but this is rare.

Intentional torts have a broader scope, and the damages may be more generous because the defendant caused harm purposely rather than accidentally. Also, the chance of punitive damages is higher with an intentional tort.

The Proof Required

How you prove, your case depends on the tort you file. In a negligence tort case, you must show that your damages stem from the harm caused by the defendant’s actions. You must use a preponderance of the evidence to show the court that the defendant is responsible for those damages.

In intentional tort cases, you must prove intent. Meaning, you must show that the person caused your injuries purposely and they knew the consequences of their actions.

Do You Have a Tort Claim? Speak with an Attorney

If you are injured, the last thing you need to worry about is what type of tort you can file. Instead, you should speak with an attorney. Seeking compensation against a person or company is a big step, and it requires legal representation.

You can receive a free consultation from the attorneys at Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP, today. We will review your case and help determine the type of tort you have. Then, we will aggressively represent your right to compensation in court.

Schedule your free case evaluation at one of our three office locations or contact us online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.