Unintentional torts, also known as negligent acts, are accidents caused by a person that lead to injury or damage to you or your property.
These torts are differentiated from intentional torts, which involve purposeful actions that cause harm. Torts can be broadly categorized into three main types: intentional, unintentional, and strict liability.
In the case of unintentional torts, the person causing harm did not intend the action that resulted in the injury or property damage. However, they can still be held liable for failing to exercise the reasonable due care that a person in the same situation would be expected to exercise.
How Does Negligence Operate as a Tort?
Negligence refers to conduct that falls short of the reasonable standard of care expected from individuals, ultimately causing harm to others.
The key distinction between intentional and unintentional torts lies in the person’s state of mind. Someone who commits an unintentional tort is negligent but does not intend to cause harm.
Despite the lack of intent to harm, people committing unintentional torts are still legally obligated to compensate for damages due to their careless actions resulting in injury. For example, if a storekeeper fails to maintain safe conditions for customers and a customer is injured as a result, the storekeeper is responsible for the injury.
Even if the storekeeper did not intend to cause harm, they failed to take the necessary reasonable precautions to ensure customer safety.
Four factors are considered when determining a negligence claim. A negligence lawsuit must demonstrate the following elements:
- Duty of care: The obligation to protect those around you and exercise reasonable care;
- Breach of duty: Failure to provide the necessary reasonable care to prevent harm to others;
- Causation: The connection between the negligent conduct and the resulting injury; and
- Damages: The injured party must have suffered damages in order to seek remedy in court.
Courts apply a different standard for children when determining liability for injuries caused. The standard is based on what a reasonable child of similar age and life experiences would do in similar circumstances.
Parents are not automatically held liable for their children’s actions but can be held responsible if they fail to properly train or supervise their child. Additionally, courts allow a child to sue a parent if injured due to the parent’s negligence.
Example of a Negligence Claim Meeting All Four Elements
Suppose a person slips and falls at a grocery store due to a wet floor, resulting in injuries. In this scenario, the elements of negligence can be demonstrated as follows:
Duty of Care
The store owner has an obligation to provide a safe environment for customers. A safe environment includes maintaining clean and dry floors, promptly addressing spills, and providing adequate warnings when hazards are present.
In our example, the store owner is responsible for ensuring that the floors are clean and dry or that appropriate warning signs are placed if a spill occurs.
Breach of Duty
The store owner failed to uphold the duty of care by not adequately addressing the wet floor, either by cleaning it up or providing a warning sign.
In our example, the store owner was aware of the spill but did not take immediate action to clean it up or place a warning sign to alert customers to the hazard, therefore breaching their duty of care.
The wet floor directly caused the customer’s slip and fall, leading to a broken wrist as a direct result of the store owner’s negligence.
The injured party must have experienced damages, such as physical injury, medical expenses, or lost wages, in order to seek legal remedy in court.
In our example, the customer incurred medical expenses for the treatment of their broken wrist, experienced pain and suffering, and missed work due to the injury. These damages can be attributed to the store owner’s negligence.
In this case, all four elements of a negligence claim are met, and the injured customer may have a valid legal claim against the store owner for compensation related to their injuries.
What Are Intentional Torts?
Intentional torts are deliberate actions taken with the knowledge that they will result in harm. In these cases, the responsible party knew their action would cause serious injury or damage and were certain of the consequences.
Typical intentional torts include:
- Assault with a threat of injury or attempted battery, even without actual battery occurring;
- Engaging in harmful conduct with another person, even without physical injury;
- Wrongfully taking and converting someone else’s property;
- Illegally restraining someone or committing false imprisonment;
- Defamation or slander.
Other common examples include:
- Trespass to land: The unauthorized entry onto another person’s property without permission;
- Trespass to chattels: The intentional interference with another person’s personal property, resulting in damage or deprivation of use;
- Fraud or misrepresentation: Knowingly providing false information or deceiving someone to cause them harm or financial loss;
- Invasion of privacy: The intentional intrusion into another person’s private affairs, including public disclosure of private facts, false light, or appropriation of someone’s name or likeness for personal gain; and
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress: Deliberately causing severe emotional distress or mental suffering to another person through outrageous and extreme conduct.
States typically have their own systems for categorizing and punishing various intentional torts, but the above list represents the most common offenses.
What Is the Difference in Damages Between Intentional and Unintentional Torts?
In general, intentional torts also result in criminal charges, while unintentional torts do not.
Damages for negligence torts usually consist of compensatory and non-compensatory damages. Compensatory damages directly repay the victim for medical expenses and lost wages, while non-compensatory damages address pain, suffering, and emotional trauma.
With the help of a lawyer, you can demonstrate that the damages were caused by the negligent conduct that led to the injury. Courts typically use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to establish a party’s liability for damages.
When Do You Need to Contact a Lawyer?
Suppose you or a family member suspect you have a negligence claim due to an accident that resulted in injuries. In that case, it is advisable to consult a local unintentional tort lawyer for guidance. The amount recoverable for injuries can vary depending on the state in which you reside.
Meeting the proof requirements for a negligence claim can be challenging. An unintentional torts lawyer can assist in gathering the necessary evidence for a successful claim.
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