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THE MEANING OF “INTENT” IN TORT

    For many torts, it does not matter if the defendant acted with a desire to injure the plaintiff, or even thought he was doing a beneficial thing. The act and the injury together constitute the tort, irrespective of the defendant’s state of mind. Put another way, although these wrongs are described as “intentional”, what is meant is not that the defendant himself desired to harm the plaintiff. Again, he may even have wished to help. It is enough that he intended the act, although not necessarily the consequences, e.g., manipulating the broken arm of an ice skater, per an upcoming example, or “knew to a substantial certainty” that his conduct would manipulate the arm. To reiterate, with reference only to the physical act, the actor must have subjectively desired the result, or known to a substantial certainty it would occur, without reference to the results. Thus is a woman walking in the woods steps upon another’s property, she is liable in trespass (a tort covered later here), even though she did not desire to commit a trespass. The reason is that she purposefully took that trespassory step. This is to say, when she was walking, the motion of her legs and the forward shift in her body weight and her probable view of where she wanted to step suffice to show that she subjectively desired or knew to a substantial certainty where her next step would land. As we see, “intent” in tort refers tp the act, not the result.

    This description of “intent” will hold true for each of the so called “Intentional Torts”: (1) assault; (2) battery;3 (3) false imprisonment; and (4) intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress. Due to our time limitations, we will only treat Battery and Assault in this lecture.

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