Intentional Torts vs. Crimes

Experienced tort attorney, Doug Lauenstein, provides insight on the difference between an intentional tort and a crime.

A tort is defined as an act committed by an individual which results in harm to another person.  Harm, in tort cases, usually takes the form of physical injury, property damage, or damage to one’s reputation.  In most cases, torts are a result of negligence or carelessness, however, there are certain situations when a tort is intentional, and as a result, is treated differently.

Intentional torts depend strictly on the mindset of the person committing the tort. To prove that the tort was intentional, one must determine whether or not the action leading to the injury or harm had obvious intent behind it.  This being the case, many intentional torts are also considered crimes, although there is still a subtle difference between the two.

For example, intentional torts generally result in civil lawsuits where one private citizen files claims against another. Crimes are more severe infractions in which an individual or multiple individuals broke the law, and are generally followed by proceedings that are brought on by the state government. Civil trials, as a result of an intentional tort, result in one person being found liable and having to pay for monetary damages caused by their actions. Criminal proceedings on the other hand, deal with protecting public welfare and punishing the guilty for their wrong doings.  The standard of proof in these cases also differs.  Civil courts use the standard, ‘more probable than not,’ while criminal courts use the standard ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’  This standard of proof difference may result in different outcomes similar to what happened during the O.J. Simpson trial in which he was found not guilty in criminal court but was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages in civil court.

One example of an intentional tort that is often considered a crime as well is Battery.  Battery requires that the aggressor physically strike or offensively touch the victim.  Assault only requires that the victim fears that they are about to suffer physical harm.  This allows police officers to make an arrest before a victim is physically harmed.    A good way to distinguish between these two acts is to view battery as a “completed” assault.   Battery allows the victim to file a civil suit on top of the criminal proceedings, making this an intentional tort and a crime.

For more information on torts and criminal law, please contact the Law Offices of Doug Lauenstein.