The Difference Between Negligence and Intentional Tort

Man holding pen to paper and questioning whether his lawsuit is negligence or intentional tort

Legal action is rooted in the pursuit of justice against wrongdoing — tort law allows victims to pursue civil remedies that provide relief through monetary damages. Injured individuals often file a personal injury claim based on one of two theories of recovery: negligence or intentional tort. The attorneys at Casey, Devoti and Brockland have outlined the differences between these two categories so you can better understand the legal steps that lie ahead.


Negligence is defined as the failure to use the degree of care that an ordinarily careful person would use under the same or similar circumstances. In simple terms, negligence cases involve an accident caused by the missteps of an individual or organization that results in an injury to another. We often see negligence cases in the form of car accidents, medical malpractice, slip and fall cases and accidents in the workplace. However, not every accident is an immediate case of negligence — the four following elements must be present to prove negligence.

  1. Duty of Care. Duty is the obligation to act in a certain situation.
  2. Breach. Breach of duty is the failure to act as required.
  3. Damages. Damages are the physical, emotional or financial harms and losses that resulted from the failure of one to act as required.
  4. Causation. Causation is the connection between the failure to act and the harms and losses that follow.

For example, consider a medical malpractice case in which a doctor caused harm to their patient after prescribing the wrong medication. It can be shown that another reasonable doctor would have taken care to fully examine the patient and prescribe the proper medication for their condition. This would be a textbook negligence case since it shows every element, including:

  1. The doctor had a duty of care to their patient.
  2. They breached their duty of care by failing to prescribe the proper medication.
  3. The patient experiences physical, mental or financial damages as a result of the medication error.
  4. The wrong prescription directly caused the damages the patient experienced.

Intentional Tort

Intentional tort involves an intentional act that results in injury or damage to an individual or their property. Intent is the factor that sets these cases apart from negligence cases — the person facing these charges purposely committed a wrongful act that harmed someone or something. Common cases of intentional tort include battery, assault, false imprisonment, conversion and trespass.

The simplest example of intentional tort would be a bar fight. An individual may punch someone in the face during the fight — in this circumstance, they intentionally punched another person, making them liable for legal action.

The Differences Between Negligence and Intentional Tort

Intentional tort and negligence are both types of tort lawsuits, yet they are distinctly different in their primary circumstances. Intentional tort involves harm committed with intent while negligence claims involve harm caused by carelenesses. Their differences exist in additional technicalities, such as:

  • Charges against the defendant. Both categories are civil cases in which you seek damages, but the perpetrator of an intentional tort may also face criminal charges.
  • Damages Available. There are typically more generous damages available in intentional tort cases, while there may be a cap on damages for negligence cases.
  • Insurance Coverage. You are typically able to insure yourself for injuries resulting from your negligence. For example, motor vehicle insurance policies protect drivers if they cause a crash. However, you cannot insure yourself for injuries resulting from intentional conduct. Most policies have exclusions that specifically state that the policy will not protect the insured from injuries resulting from actions they purposefully took.

Tort lawsuits may be a source of confusion for people recovering from an injury. We hope to make legal action a little less confusing as you start taking steps toward justice. For more helpful personal injury guides, check out our Legal & Safety blog — and when you are ready, contact the attorneys at Casey, Devoti & Brockland for more information.

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