Defense of Property and Intentional Torts
You thought it was bad enough when someone tried to steal your backpack and you had to chase him down, breaking his arm in the process. But now, the thief is suing you for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Thankfully, there are a number of affirmative defenses at your disposal, including defense of property. But whether you will be successful in asserting this defense depends on the laws of your state and the strength of your argument. Read on to learn about defense of property and intentional torts.
What Are Intentional Torts?
An intentional tort is a civil wrong committed by a person who intended to act in a way that then caused harm to a person or property. Some common examples are assault, battery, false imprisonment, and trespass. These are different from other torts based on negligence or recklessness, where the wrongdoing is more accidental.
If you’ve been accused of wrongdoing and you don’t deny the allegations, but rather have some reason that justifies or excuses your conduct, this is called an affirmative defense. As the defendant, you bear the burden of proving the affirmative defense in order to be relieved of all or some legal liability for your actions. Some common affirmative defenses include self-defense, necessity, consent, and defense of property.
What Is Defense of Property?
As a defendant being sued for an intentional tort like battery, you may be able to argue that although you did harm the plaintiff, you did so in order to prevent your property from being invaded (in the case of real estate, like your home), or taken (as with personal property, like your purse). For example, if an intruder is attempting to break in through the window of your bedroom and you hit him with a bat, he might try to sue you for battery. Here, among other potential defenses, you could argue that you shouldn’t be held liable because you were defending your property from intrusion.
How Far Can You Go to Defend Your Property?
You’re probably wondering what types of actions are acceptable when it comes to defending your home or personal property. The use of force in defense of property is much more limited than it is in defense of self or others. Each state has its own laws regarding the amount of force you can use, but state statutes often use terms like “reasonable” or “proportionate” to describe what type of force is allowed.
Generally, you can use more force to defend your home (and in some states, your car), with certain states even allowing for deadly force in these situations. This is one version of what’s known as the castle doctrine. With personal property, you can usually use a reasonable degree of non-deadly force to retain or regain your property when someone is attempting to take it from you directly. However, you can’t trespass into your neighbor’s house or run at them with a knife in order to retrieve the stereo speakers they’ve refused to return to you for weeks.
Get Help Defending Yourself by Learning More About Defense of Property
The defense of property argument is an important tool when defending yourself against a tort lawsuit. However, the right to defend your property is not absolute. Each state has its own laws specifying the amount of force that is acceptable, and state courts have interpreted those laws to further define your rights and obligations in these situations. Be prepared for your defense by contacting a local injury defense attorney who has experience with the defense of property argument.