Self Defense, Defense of Others, and Intentional Torts

The law grants us all the right to defend ourselves and our loved ones in certain situations. But what happens when your own act of self-defense results in you being sued for personal injury? Luckily, there may be legal defenses available to you. Read on to learn more about intentional torts, self-defense, and the defense of others.

What Are Intentional Torts?

A "tort" is a personal injury caused by a civil, rather than a criminal, wrong. Tort lawsuits can arise from a variety of events, including car wrecks, slip-and-fall accidents, dog bites, defamation/slander, and wrongful death, to name only a few. When the person committing the tort intended to perform that harmful action, an "intentional tort" results. The classic example of an intentional tort is a punch to the face.

A few types of intentional torts are:

  • Battery
  • Assault
  • False imprisonment
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress

However, there are defenses available to intentional torts. For example, you may have a legal defense that justifies your actions if the intentional tort occurred while you were acting in defense of yourself or another person.

Defense to an Intentional Tort: Self-Defense

You don't have to stand by idly if you’re being harmed by another person. You have the right to take reasonable steps to prevent injury to yourself. While "self-defense" can be raised as a defense to criminal acts, it’s also a defense to some intentional torts.

By way of illustration, if a heated argument breaks out between Adam and Brad, and Adam yells, "Brad, I'm going to punch you in the face!" and pulls back his fist to hit Brad, Brad may defend himself by punching Adam first. Based on these circumstances, Brad could have reasonably anticipated that Adam was going to imminently harm him. If Adam is injured and attempts to sue Brad for the intentional tort of battery, Brad can claim self-defense because he was protecting himself in response to Adam's tort of assault.

However, Brad only has the right to use an appropriate and proportionate amount of force in defending himself. For example, if Adam tells Brad he's going to punch him and pulls back his fist, and in response Brad repeatedly bashes Adam with a brick until Adam is unconscious, that may be considered an excessive amount of force that did not match the level of the threat. In that situation, self-defense may not be available to Brad as a defense.

Also, once the danger passes, the privilege of self-defense disappears. In other words, self-defense will not excuse a "revenge attack." An example of this is if Adam punched Brad or threatened to punch him, and the following day after stewing angrily all night, Brad finds Adam and punches him in the face. In this situation, Brad will likely not be able to invoke self-defense because the danger of being harmed by Adam had passed long before he struck back.

Defense to an Intentional Tort: Defense of Others

A similar defense to intentional torts is the defense of others. You may use force to defend another person from harm if you reasonably believe that intervention is justified and that the person being aided could have had a legitimate claim for self-defense. Like with self-defense, defense of others requires you to use only a reasonable and proportionate amount of force. An example is if Brad sees that Adam is imminently going to hit Chris. Brad can use a proportionate amount of force in defending Chris and invoke the defense of others if Adan ends up suing him for an intentional tort.

However, to invoke this defense, you must have physically witnessed the attack, rather than merely heard about it. For example, Chris told Brad that he had been assaulted by Adam. If Brad then punched Adam, he would be unlikely to be able to invoke the privilege of defense of others.

Get Legal Help with Your Case

If you are a defendant in a personal injury case, there may be a variety of legal defenses available to you. To better understand your legal rights, speak with an experienced personal injury defense attorney.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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