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Intentional Torts

While many personal injuries are the result of negligent or accidental behavior, situations also arise where the wrongdoer intended the conduct which ultimately harmed another individual. Such wrongdoing is referred to as an intentional tort. Generally speaking, a tort is wrongful conduct that causes harm to another individual. To be considered an intentional tort under Tennessee law, the alleged wrongdoer, also referred to as the tortfeasor, must have intended to commit the wrongful conduct. Whether or not the tortfeasor intended for the injury to occur is irrelevant.

Examples of Intentional Torts

One example of an intentional tort is where one party kicks another in the leg. To be considered an intentional tort, the wrongdoer must have intended to kick the other party. If he kicked the other party by mistake, for example maybe he was unaware that the other party was nearby, then his conduct will not be considered intentional. It is important to remember that the wrongdoer need not have intended to injure the other party. To continue with the example, if the wrongdoer’s kick resulted in a broken leg for the the other party, the wrongdoer will be liable for the damages caused, even if he did not intend to break the other party’s leg.

The example above illustrates the intentional tort of battery. In addition to battery, there are several other intentional torts commonly recognized under Tennessee law. Those intentional torts that involve injury to the person include assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Intentional torts may also involve injury to property or even injury to one’s reputation. Intentional torts that do not generally involve personal injury include trespass to land and trespass to chattels, conversion, fraud and misrepresentation, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy and defamation.

As discussed, liability for an intentional tort requires only that the tortfeasor intended to perform the harmful conduct. In fact, in certain cases a tortfeasor with the requisite intent can be found liable for injuries caused to a third party. For example, where a tortfeasor throws a punch intending to hit Party A but instead misses and hits Party B, the tortfeasor will be liable for any injuries caused to Party B under the doctrine of transferred intent.

Damages Recoverable for Intentional Tort

A person who suffers injuries resulting from an intentional tort can often recover special damages, in addition to those awarded for pain, suffering and medical expenses. These special damages are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded for intentional torts because the tortfeasor intended for the harmful conduct to occur. This is often not the case where injuries are caused by accidental or careless behavior.

An injured party may also be able to recover damages from a party other than the actual tortfeasor, even for intentional torts. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an injured individual may be permitted to recover damages from a tortfeasor’s employer. While recovery for injuries caused by negligence is more common, an employer may be held vicariously liable for intentional torts committed by an employee, so long as that employee was acting within the scope of their employment when committing the wrongful act. For example, if a nightclub bouncer strikes and injures a patron, that patron may be able to recover damages from the nightclub by arguing that the bouncer was acting within the scope of his employment at the time he committed the intentional tort.

An injured party may be prevented from recovering damages in cases where that party consented to, or assumed the risk the harmful conduct. These defenses often arise in the context of sports. For example, if a football player files a civil lawsuit after being injured during a tackle, he would not be able to recover damages from the player who tackled him because getting tackled is a well known risk of the game. Because a football player consents to being tackled during a game, he cannot then sue the player who tackled him, even though that player had the requisite intent to make the tackle.

While consent and assumption of risk are recognized as defenses to intentional torts, the issue of scope often arises in both contexts. To continue the previous example, if another player had pulled out a gun and shot the football player during a game, neither the defense of consent nor assumption of risk would prevent the football player from recovering damages. The football player did not consent to or assume the risk of being shot during a game.

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