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Transferred Intent in Civil Law

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What is Transferred Intent?

Intentional injuries are (as the name implies) caused when one person intentionally harms another. In order for a person to be liable for an intentional injury, there must be intent to cause the specific injury. There are five injury causes of action, however, where the intention to cause a specific injury may be transferred if one of the other five injuries occurs.

To prove that a defendant has committed an intentional tort, a plaintiff needs to prove negligence and that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff and the plaintiff breached that duty which injured the plaintiff.
Even if the defendant was intending to harm another person, but then injured the plaintiff, the plaintiff can hold the defendant liable even if the defendant did not intend to harm the plaintiff.

When Does Transferred Intent Apply?

Transferred intent applies only to five intentional injury causes of action: assault and battery, false imprisonment, trespass to land, and trespass to chattel. Under transferred intent, the intention to commit one of the following causes of action can result in liability for one of the other five causes of action if one should occur.

Transferred intent would apply if the following happens:

  • A tort would have been committed if contact with the original party occurred; and
  • A tort was committed to an unintended party, resulting in damages.

What is the Purpose of Transferred Intent?

Transferred intent permits the intent requirement of one of the five intentional causes of action to satisfy the intent requirement of the other. That means that proving of intent for an injury caused unintentionally is bypassed because the intent to cause one results in liability should one of the other five occur.

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Does Transferred Intent Transfer to Different Parties?

Yes. Transferred intent allows the intent to transfer from one victim to another. Therefore, if person A swings a bat with the intent to hit person B, but instead hits person C, person A would be liable in battery to person C even though there was never an intention to hit person C.

Does Transferred Intent Transfer to Different Torts?

Yes. In addition to intent being transferring from person to person, intent can be transferred from a tort to an unintended tort. This means that if a defendant intends to commit a tort against one person, but commits a different tort against that same person the defendant can still be held liable for the unintended tort.

Does Transferred Intent Apply to All Intentional Injuries?

No. The doctrine of transferred intent covers only five intentional torts Transferred intent is generally only applicable to the commission of one of the following five intentional torts:

  • Battery;
  • Assault;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Trespass to land; and
  • Trespass to chattels.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If you have suffered an intentional injury, you should contact a personal injury attorney and they can help you receive compensation for your injury. If you believe that transferred intent exists, however, let your attorney know because any information about the intent of the person causing the injury will help in resolving your case.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 07-24-2018 07:58 PM PDT

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