Intentional Torts in California
We typically think of personal injury claims as negligence, such as when someone acts negligently and you're injured. But what if the person acts intentionally against you, knowing their actions may cause harm?
Under California law, you can file an intentional tort claim against the offending party to recover damages if this happens.
Tort law falls into two categories, including negligence or intentional tort. Negligence means something happened by accident due to carelessness, but their actions did not intend to cause harm. On the other hand, an intentional tort is a deliberate action, even if not meant to cause harm.
To file an intentional tort, your lawyer must meet certain elements. Many will not even agree to handle an intentional tort case if they believe it doesn't have legal standing. Many types of intentional torts will have other elements to prove.
However, all intentional torts must show that the defendant acted intentionally when they carried out the action and had reasonable knowledge that their actions may have consequences.
In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's action was intentional and that they knew there might be negative consequences. They didn't need to know that the injury or damage that occurred would be one of the consequences, only that there may be negative consequences.
Let's explore this concept further and discuss the various types of intentional torts recognized in California.
Intentional Torts - Explained
An intentional tort is a civil wrong that is intentionally committed against someone that causes them harm or damage. Unlike negligence cases, in which the offending party acted carelessly, intentional torts claim that the defendant acted purposefully.
Simply put, intentional tort cases arise anytime a defendant commits a crime or other wrongdoing on purpose, knowingly, maliciously, and consciously and causes harm to somebody. Those tort claims in negligence and strict liability cases revolve around accidents or carelessness.
It will need to be shown that the defendant is guilty of doing something intentionally to hurt the plaintiff despite the foreseeable risk involved in the act. Intentional tort cases could result in civil and criminal liability for the defendant.
But instead of demonstrating that your injury was caused by carelessness, you're attempting to prove that your injury was the result of deliberate action. To win an intentional tort lawsuit, you and your attorney must prove that:
- The defendant committed the harmful act intentionally; and
- The defendant had reasonable knowledge that their actions could have negative consequences.
Note that under California law, you don't have to prove that the defendant intended to harm you—only that the act itself was intentional and that they understood it came with the risk of harm. This is important because it's easier to prove an intention to commit an act than to prove that person's motives.
Types of Intentional Torts
There are several types of intentional torts, all with different elements you'll need to prove to recover damages. As with most states, California recognizes seven types of intentional torts:
- Assault and Battery;
- False imprisonment;
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
- Trespass to land;
- Trespass to chattels;
These types of intentional tort are serious; whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, you need legal advice. Let's review these in more detail below.
Assault is "an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another."
In California, the defendant doesn't have to contact you to have committed the assault—they simply must attempt to do so. Proving assault as an intentional tort requires you to show the person was capable of harming you and acted in a way that made you believe you would be harmed.
Where assault involves attempting to strike someone violently, a battery consists in making contact with the victim in a harmful or offensive way. Proving battery as an intentional tort may be easier than proving assault, especially if you have physical injuries.
False imprisonment is "the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another." It involves depriving someone of their freedom. Proving false imprisonment as an intentional tort requires you to show that the defendant intended to restrict your movement and that they didn't have legal justification for doing so.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) occurs when someone commits "outrageous conduct" against you that causes you severe emotional distress. "Outrageous" conduct goes beyond what a reasonable person would deem appropriate, and "severe" distress means more than just hurt feelings.
It refers to profound or long-lasting distress, often causing physical manifestations like headaches, vomiting, intense anxiety, depression, etc.
Trespass to Land
Trespass to land occurs when someone unlawfully enters your property without your permission.
Beyond the simple offense of trespassing, proving trespass to land as an intentional tort requires you to show that the defendant trespassed without legal justification and that you suffered some harm as a result (e.g., property damage).
Conversion is the unauthorized and wrongful interference with someone else's personal property.
It occurs when the defendant interferes with your lawful possession of the property in a way that deprives you of its use or enjoyment or when they appropriate it for their use. It is effectively the civil law counterpart to theft or larceny.
Trespass to Chattel
"Chattel" basically refers to any property other than real estate. Trespass to chattel is similar to conversion, but instead of simply depriving you of your property, the defendant causes damage to the property, resulting in a loss.
Some of these items (e.g., assault and battery) are also considered criminal offenses and may be prosecuted as crimes.
However, a criminal conviction doesn't necessarily force the defendant to compensate you for any losses. An intentional tort is a mechanism that allows you to file a separate civil claim to recover damages. You can file intentional tort claims regardless of whether criminal charges are filed.
Recoverable Damages for Intentional Torts
If the intentional tort of someone injured you, you deserve compensation for your injuries. You shouldn't have to suffer due to another person's wrongful actions.
You can possibly recover your damages financially by filing a personal injury claim. As with other personal injury claims, you can recover economic and noneconomic damages if you win your intentional tort claim.
Our skilled Los Angeles personal injury lawyers can help you bring you claims for intentional tort injuries. We will pursue maximum compensation for the injuries you have suffered. We work on a contingency basis, meaning you don't pay any fees unless we win your case.
We offer a free case evaluation by phone or through the contact form. Injury Justice Law Firm is based in LA County, CA.