Comparing Intentional Torts and Negligence in Personal Injury
Nevada law allows individuals to use the courts to seek justice when another person commits a wrong against them. An essential part of ensuring a successful recovery after sustaining injuries is knowing what type of legal action to pursue. This consideration is especially important when it comes to the difference between intentional torts and negligence.
When a person commits a wrongful act that infringes upon the safety, peace or freedom of someone else, it’s called a tort. When a person commits a tort on purpose, it’s called an intentional tort. When a person commits a tort because they don’t act carefully enough, it’s called negligence or negligence torts. Here’s what you need to know when comparing intentional torts and negligence in personal injury.
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When a person doesn’t exercise enough care and caution, and their actions result in someone else’s injury, they’ve acted negligently. Negligence is a failure to use reasonable care.
As we go about our business in the world, we have a duty not to act in ways that pose an unreasonable danger to others. When a lapse in that duty of care results in an injury to someone else, the negligent person owes the victim for their damages.
There are four essential elements in a negligence claim:
- Duty of Care (Standard of Care) – The first is that a person is in a situation where they have a duty to act carefully. For example, drivers on the roads have an obligation, or duty, to drive carefully for the safety of everyone else and to avoid a car accident.
- Breach of Duty – The second aspect of a negligence claim is that the person must fail to act as carefully as they should.
- Causation – Next, this failure must result in a loss or injury to someone else.
- Damages – Finally, the victim must have physical, emotional or property damages because of what occurred.
What’s an Intentional Tort?
An intentional tort occurs when someone acts on purpose. That is, a person purposefully intends the action that results in your injuries. Battery is considered an intentional tort. When a person strikes you on purpose, you can recover your damages.
Other examples of intentional torts include trespassing, theft, causing emotional distress and false imprisonment. Intentional infliction of emotional distress also falls under this category, which occurs when a person engages in conduct with the intention of inflicting extreme fear in another person. This can lead to physical harm in addition to emotional distress. Other common intentional torts are wrongful death when intentional actions resulted in death, fraud, defamation and invasion of privacy.
What’s the Difference Between Negligence and an Intentional Tort?
The primary difference in tort law between an intentional tort and negligence is that an intentional tort occurs when someone acts on purpose, while negligence happens when someone isn’t careful enough to fulfill the necessary standard of care. In an intentional tort, an actor might not plan all of the damages that occur, but there is the intent behind their actions that result in losses to the injured parties. For example, in the case of assault and battery, they intend to hit you.
Most auto accidents are considered negligence. Usually, another driver doesn’t hit you on purpose. Rather, they make a driving error that leads to an accident, which is negligence. On the other hand, if a person uses a vehicle to strike you or your vehicle intentionally, they’ve committed an intentional tort.
Similarly, if a person throws a ball at you and it strikes you in the nose, that’s an intentional tort example. It’s considered battery because they threw the ball at you knowing that it would probably hit you in the face. If they throw the ball at a wall and it bounces and then strikes you in the face, that’s an example of negligence.
Intentional Acts vs. Intentional Consequences
In an intentional tort claim, the jury can presume that a person intends the natural consequences of their actions. That is, if someone strikes you, it’s not a defense for them to claim that they didn’t want you to get hurt.
If a person steals your car, it’s not a defense for them to assert that they didn’t want you to be without a car when they stole your car. The question is whether the person intended to undertake the particular action knowing that the result is likely to occur. This is where personal injury law and criminal law come into play.
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Joint and Several Liability and the Right to Contribution
Negligence and intentional torts also differ in the way that defendants have to pay for the damage they cause. For an intentional tort, all of the defendants responsible must pay all of the claim. This process is unlike a negligence case, where a defendant must only pay for their share of the damages.
For example, consider you have been injured in an auto accident. Two other drivers negligently contributed to the cause of the crash. One rear-ended you, and the other failed to stop at a stop sign. The jury apportioned 25 percent fault to the driver that rear-ended you, and 75 percent responsibility to the driver that failed to stop at the stop sign.
In this scenario, the first driver pays 25 percent of your damages, and the other driver pays 75 percent. Even if one of the drivers doesn’t immediately pay the judgment, there’s no way to tap the other driver to pay their share. Instead, each driver pays for only the damages that they’re directly responsible for because of their negligence.
By contrast, consider an intentional tort, where two different people both strike you on purpose, and you subsequently sustain injuries because of the defendant’s actions. In this case, each defendant must pay for all of your damages and later recover from one another for any amount of overpayment.
Under these circumstances, you don’t get to recover double. However, both defendants are on the hook to pay the entire claim, because they acted intentionally. This legal concept is called joint and several liability.
Intentional Torts and Crimes
Many intentional torts are also crimes. Assault, battery, and theft are all crimes. When you have a civil claim against someone for an intentional act, the person may or may not face criminal charges. A state prosecuting attorney authorizes criminal charges, handles the prosecution and makes decisions about whether to extend a plea offer.
The burden of proof to convict someone of a crime is beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a much higher standard than in civil cases. To win a civil case for an intentional tort, you need to prove your case by only a preponderance of the evidence. Also, in most personal injury cases, there are more damages available to you in a civil case than are available as part of a criminal prosecution.
Work with an attorney
If you have sustained injuries and are wondering which of these legal concepts apply to your circumstances, schedule a free consultation with an experienced injury law firm today. A personal injury lawyer can evaluate your case and discuss the different standards and elements that may apply.
A qualified personal injury attorney can help you better understand the nuances between these two legal concepts, and what methods would be best for building your case in your personal injury lawsuit. This information can help you pursue justice in the Nevada courts in a way that maximizes your recovery from the defendant or their insurance company.
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