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What Are ‘Intentional Torts to Property’


Video Transcript

“0:00 What are intentional torts to property?

0:03 Intentional torts to property include

0:05 torts such as trespass, negligence,

0:08 nuisance and conversion. Intentional torts

0:13 involved torts which the law implies a

0:16 damages remedy if someone has

0:18 unreasonably interfere with your rights

0:20 to use or have access to your own

0:22 property. For example, in a trespass,

0:26 merely stepping on someone’s property is

0:30 a trespass the fact that you did it. But

0:33 there may not be any damages because you

0:35 may have not damaged their property. So

0:38 in that situation, you can still sue for

0:40 damages because it was a trespass to

0:42 your property. But it may be nominal

0:44 damages such as a dollar and in those

0:48 situations the person harmed can also

0:50 seek injunctive relief to force the

0:52 person who came on their property to not

0:55 come on their property again. Other

0:57 intentional torts such as nuisance allow

1:00 a person harmed to simply sue for a foul

1:03 odor that shouldn’t be occurring in

1:06 their neighborhood due to having a

1:07 manure factory in their back yard when

1:09 they shouldn’t. And so these are the many

1:12 different types of torts that are

1:13 available to someone harmed and the law

1:17 implies some sort of a remedy to stop

1:18 those wrongs from occurring.”

The tort law recognizes three types of torts: negligent torts, intentional torts, and strict liability. Strict liability in tort suggests situations where a defendant remains liable for injuries no matter what steps someone took. Fireworks are one example. No matter what steps you take, you can’t make explosives totally safe. Because of this, a fireworks manufacturing plant must take precautions to prevent neighbors from being hit by schrapnel in case of an explosion, etc.

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In California, we have dog bite strict liability laws as well. Some states have a one bite rule, however, so strict liability is usually a legislative enactment and not always based on judge made law or tort lawsuit history.

Two Main Property Intentional Torts

There are two types of properties that intentional torts cover, and these include:

  1. Trespass to land
  2. Trespass to chattels.

Vicarious liability could attach if an employer ordered or directed the tort, so don’t assume there is only one defendant’s actions. Liability for a civil wrong involving tortious conduct can be spread around under common law.

This means there may be more than one source of recovery or insurance policy. However, if you argue everything was intentional, defendant’s insurance won’t cover anything, so be careful when pleading these claims. Let’s explore intentional torts to property with Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys.

What Exactly Is an Intentional Tort?

An intentional tort is when someone intentionally carries out a wrongful act that causes damage or harm to another individual. The intentional act must not necessarily cause the eventual outcome. 

Intentional torts can lead to civil liability and be a crime, falling under criminal law.

Most Common Intentional Torts

Under the intentional tort law, there are several types of intentional torts, including the following most common intentional torts:

  • Assault: This intentional tort occurs when someone causes apprehension of harm to another person.
  • Battery: This intentional tort occurs when someone causes harmful or offensive contact with another person. Offensive touching is the key. Brushing against someone on a bus or when a person enters an elevator won’t fly to be found liable to pay compensation here.
  • False imprisonment: Intentional tort of false imprisonment occurs when a person without legal authority confines another individual in a bounded space.
  • Conversion: This occurs when someone deprives another’s right to use or possess personal property.
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress: This tort liability occurs when someone’s extreme and outrageous conduct causes severe emotional distress to another.
  • Trespass: When someone uses or damages another’s land and personal property without consent.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Also a generally uninsurable tort as a matter of public policy, this occurs when someone intentionally touches upon your emotions to permanently cause mental distress and damages.

What are ‘Intentional Torts to Property’?

Under the intentional torts to property, there are two types of trespass torts, trespass to land and trespass to chattels.

Trespass to Land

Trespass to land refers to the interference of a person on another’s land without their consent, or remains on the land, or throwing an object on the land. Unlike nuisance, which requires proof of damage, the plaintiff does not necessarily have to prove damages under such circumstances as trespass to land.

A plaintiff bringing the trespass to land claim against a defendant must prove the following:

  • The plaintiff is the lawful possessor of the land.
  • The defendant carried out an unlawful intrusion upon a property.
  • The intent of the defendant.

The defendant must have a purpose for the interference with the land. It does not necessarily have to be a particular land the defendant intended to trespass, but the intent must be there. The interference does not necessarily have to be important in nature, cause physical harm, or even be egregious.

In the case of Gregory v Piper, the defendant asked his servant to build a wall of rubbish to prevent the plaintiff from using their land to get to their property. After the servant built the wall, the wind displaced some debris onto the plaintiff’s property, who sued the defendant for trespass.

Although the nature of the issue is inconsequential, it is enough to constitute trespass to land, and the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

There must be voluntariness or an intent to trespass on someone’s land. In Stone v Smith, the defendant was forced onto the plaintiff’s land through violence by others. The plaintiff sued the defendant for trespass, but the court ruled in favor of the defendant, stating that he was not voluntarily there.

A trespass by mistake is actionable. In Conway v George Wimpey & Co Ltd, the defendant’s driver was told not to give a lift on the lorry to other people besides the company’s workers, but he gave a ride to the plaintiff, who was not a company employee. 

After a short ride, the plaintiff dismounted the lorry but got his leg caught under the wheel, badly crushed and requiring amputation. The plaintiff brought a civil action against the defendant. 

The court stated that the plaintiff was a trespasser even if he didn’t know he was trespassing and that the defendant is not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries as the plaintiff relied on the permission to use the lorry provided by the driver who didn’t have authority to provide consent.

Trespass to Chattels

Unlike trespass to land that deals with real property, trespass to chattels refers to one person’s direct and intentional interference with another’s personal property, moving or non-moving.

A plaintiff who brings a trespass to chattels case against a defendant must prove the following elements:

  • Intent
  • Lack of owner’s consent
  • Interference of chattels.

The defendant does not necessarily have to know that the property belongs to you, as possessing or damaging someone else’s property is interference. Unauthorized observation does not constitute a trespass to chattels. In Malone v Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the plaintiff sued the defendant for having the Post Office intercept his phone calls. 

However, the court ruled in favor of the defendant as it was the Post Office tapping the phones and not the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The court also stated that the phone tapping occurred through the wires outside the plaintiff’s property. Although the case later became an invasion of privacy, it was not a valid trespass to chattel tort claim.

There must be an element of interference to have a valid trespass to chattel claims, even if there was no intent to trespass. In Wilson v Lombank, the defendant went to a garage to pick up his employer’s car but instead picked up the plaintiff’s car, causing the plaintiff to sue the defendant.

The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and stated that the defendant interfered with the plaintiff’s rights, which was adequate to establish liability.

However, if the defendant mistakenly interferes, that could be a successful defense for a trespass to chattel claim. In National Coal Board v JE Evans & Co, the council contracted the defendant’s services to excavate the land.

When the defendant started the job, they did not know about a cable wire under the land belonging to the plaintiff. The defendant struck the wire causing damage to it, leading the plaintiff to sue the defendant for trespass to chattels.

According to the court, there was no liability as the defendant’s act was involuntary and accidental. The court further stated that the liability lay with the plaintiff since they did not inform the council about the wire under their land.

Remedies under Tort Law

There are three basic remedies under the tort law, and these include the following:

  1. Legal remedies: These are monetary damages, including punitive damages.
  2. Restitutionary remedies: These are remedies aimed at making the plaintiff whole again.
  3. Equitable remedies: When monetary damages are not sufficient, the court may order the defendant, preventing them from carrying out or directing them to carry out specific actions.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

If you were a victim of trespass or have suffered damages due to another’s trespassing, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation to learn more about your rights and legal options from one of the best intentional tort law firms today.

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