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What Is the Difference Between Intentional Torts and Negligence?

Posted in Personal Injury on January 29, 2021

When one person’s actions cause another person an injury, the victim (plaintiff) will have the right to seek compensation from the at-fault party (defendant). The victim will do so by filing an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. In Texas, a defendant can be held liable for both intentional acts of wrongdoing and unintentional negligence against a plaintiff. Learn the difference between these two legal concepts to better understand your claim.

What Is an Intentional Tort?

An intentional tort describes a willful and knowing act of wrongdoing, such as an action that breaks the law in Texas. If a defendant is guilty of an intentional tort, it means he or she knew of the criminal nature, wrongfulness or risks associated with an act or omission, yet preceded with it anyway. Someone who commits an intentional tort knows the action will foreseeably cause injury, but breaches the duty of care anyway.

An intentional tort can be a premeditated crime, or the idea can occur to the defendant on the spot. Either way, if the defendant performs a willful and deliberate act of wrongdoing that injures a victim, he or she will be civilly liable for losses. The defendant will also likely face criminal charges in Texas for committing a crime against the victim, such as assault, battery, robbery, abuse or homicide.

What Is Negligence?

Negligence does not involve intent. Negligence is a person’s unintentional or careless failure to perform his or her duties of care. If a defendant is guilty of negligence, he or she made a mistake on accident that caused the victim’s injuries. In Texas, a negligent party can be held liable for a victim’s damages if four main elements are more likely to be true than not true.

  1. The defendant owed the victim a duty of care.
  2. The defendant failed to fulfill the duty or standard of care.
  3. The defendant’s breach of duty caused the accident.
  4. The victim suffered compensable losses as a result.

With evidence of these four elements, the defendant will be legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries and related losses, such as medical bills, lost wages and property damage. Even if the defendant did not intend to hurt the victim or willfully breach the standard of care, the defendant will be liable for his or her careless acts in Texas.

How Does This Affect Your Personal Injury Claim?

Whether the defendant in your personal injury case was guilty of an intentional tort or negligence, you have the same right to bring a claim against that party. Differentiating between the two will not alter your injury claim – the burden of proof will remain the same. You or your attorney will still need to establish that the defendant owed you a duty of care, willfully or accidentally breached this duty, and caused your injury. However, if the defendant committed an intentional tort, he or she could also receive a criminal conviction.

Note that being convicted of a crime does not immediately make the defendant civilly liable for your losses. You will still need to establish fault through clear and convincing evidence. However, you can use a defendant’s criminal conviction as evidence during your civil case. A criminal conviction can work in your favor to convince a judge and jury of the authenticity of your claim.

Even if a criminal case against the defendant does not result in a conviction, you could still have grounds for a civil claim. It is possible to win a civil claim even without a criminal conviction, as the burden of proof for a criminal vs. civil case differs. To convict the defendant of a crime, the prosecutor will need enough evidence to prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney, however, will only have to prove that the defendant’s tort is more than likely what caused your injury.

Speak to a personal injury attorney in Dallas for more information about the burden of proof in your claim.