Negligence vs. Intentional Act: What is Covered in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley
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Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley

Intentional acts and negligent acts that cause injury, along with what is called “strict liability,” all belong to a category of law called “tort” law. Put simply, torts are wrongful acts that cause injury to another person.

Although intentional torts, negligence, and strict liability are all torts, how they are approached and the damages awarded can be quite different. Therefore, if you have been injured in a way that you feel is not your fault in Florida, you should immediately contact a Florida injury attorney.

The Difference Between Intentional Torts and Negligence

The primary difference between intentional torts and negligence is intent. In an intentional torts claim, the defendant is alleged to have harmed someone else on purpose. In a negligence claim, the defendant is alleged to have harmed someone else by merely being careless.

The elements that must be established for a plaintiff to have a successful claim are similar but differ as to intent. To establish an intentional tort, a plaintiff typically has to prove that a defendant has intentionally acted in a way that caused injury to the plaintiff.

So, for example, to establish a claim for battery, the plaintiff must show that the defendant (1) intentionally (2) made contact with the plaintiff that (3) caused (4) harm to the plaintiff.

On the other hand, to establish a claim for negligence, the plaintiff typically has to prove that a defendant:

  • Owed a duty of reasonable care to the plaintiff
  • Breached that duty in a way that
  • Caused
  • Injury to the plaintiff.

In other words, a plaintiff must show that the defendant (1) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff (typically a duty of care to act as a reasonable person), and (2) breached that duty of care to the plaintiff (i.e., acted negligently), which (3) caused (4) harm to the plaintiff.

About Damages in Tort Cases

As torts, intentional torts and negligence are civil cases, which means that damages are typically awarded in the form of money, as opposed to criminal acts, in which a defendant may be punished by jail time.

However, some types of torts can be considered civil matters as well as criminal matters. For example, if you punch someone in the mouth, you may be arrested for criminal assault and/or battery, and you may also be sued in civil court for civil assault and/or battery.

Damages for negligence come in the form of economic damages, such as reimbursement of medical bills, as well as non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. 

Intentional torts are often broader in scope and may be more generous because the defendant acted purposely rather than negligently. Furthermore, intentional torts may include punitive damages designed to punish and/or discourage future similar behavior.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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