What are Intentional Torts?

A "tort" is some kind of wrongful act that causes harm to someone else. This definition covers a wide range of actions, and the legal field of torts is split up into many different subcategories. One of the ways torts are split up is by the mental state of the person that does the wrongdoing; for instance, torts often are caused by someone's negligence. But when the person that acts wrongly actually intends to perform the action, it becomes what is known as an "intentional tort."

The easiest example of an intentional tort is a punch to the face, what is referred to as "battery." In that case, the actor intended to make a fist and slam it into his victims face, and the actor also intended to harm his victim. However, the person who performs an intentional tort need not intend the harm. For example, if you surprise someone with an unstable heart condition, and the fright causes that person to have a heart attack, you commit an intentional tort, even if you did not intend to scare that person into a heart attack.

Common Intentional Torts

Intentional torts are wrongful acts done on purpose. Since many of these acts also may be charged as crimes, you may notice some similarities. For instance, the family of a murder victim may sue the perpetrator (whether or not they are convicted of the crime) for wrongful death. The following are some of the more common intentional tort claims.


Battery is the legal term for hitting someone, or otherwise touching them in an offensive manner (such as the case of sexual battery), which comes from the verb "to batter." This covers a surprising range of activities, including sending projectiles into someone else's body, as in firing a gun. Keep in mind that battery also is the term used for a criminal charge for a similar act, often charged alongside assault.


An assault is an attempted battery, or threatening injury when no battery takes place. If someone points a gun at you, causing fear of immediate danger, it could be claimed as an assault.

False Imprisonment

The technical definition of false imprisonment is "confinement without legal authority." Generally, no one is allowed to restrict another person's movement against her will. There are two major exceptions to this. Police generally have authority to detain people they reasonably suspect of crimes. The other exception is called the "shopkeeper's privilege," which allows shopkeepers to keep people they suspect of shoplifting for a reasonable amount of time.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In order to prove a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff has to prove that someone else engaged in extreme or outrageous conduct, with the intent of frightening someone else, and caused severe emotional distress or bodily harm. These claims are very difficult to prove in court.


Fraud is the legal term for lying to someone. In order to succeed in a suit for fraud, plaintiffs generally have to prove that the speaker knew that he was saying something false, that the other person would believe him, that the other person would rely on that information, and that the other person would be harmed by relying on this information. Fraud also may be charged as a crime.


Defamation is when someone knowingly says something false about someone else, and that lie causes harm. It includes both written (traditionally, libel) and spoken (traditionally, slander) words.

Invasion of Privacy

The exact nature of invasion of privacy varies by state, but there are generally four types of invasions of privacy:

  • Invasion of solitude, in which someone interferes with someone else's right to be left alone;
  • Public disclosure of private facts;
  • False light, in which someone publishes not true, but not defamatory facts about someone else; and
  • Appropriation, which is the unauthorized use of someone else's likeness for profit.


Trespass comes in two forms: trespass to land, and trespass to chattel, or personal property. In either case, trespass means using the property without permission of the owner.


Conversion is when someone takes someone else's property and "converts" it to their own. In the criminal world, conversion is known as theft.

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