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Torts and Transferred Intent

Assault to a GuyTo show that a defendant has committed an intentional tort, a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff, which the defendant intentionally breached, resulting in an injury or loss to the plaintiff. Assault, battery, and trespass are all examples of intentional torts. The doctrine of transferred intent allows intent to be shifted from one intentional tort to another, or from an intended victim to an unintended victim. Thus, if a victim is injured by a defendant who intended to cause harm, the victim may hold the defendant liable, even if the defendant did not intend to cause the particular type of harm, or intended harm to a different victim.

Conditions of Transferred Intent

Transferred intent is likely present if:

  • A tort would have been committed if contact with the original party occurred; and
  • A tort was committed to an unintended party, resulting in damages.

Intent may transfer either from person to person or from tort to tort. Thus, transferred intent applies when: 

  • A defendant intends to commit a tort against one person, but commits a different tort against that same person;
  • A defendant commits the intended tort, but against an unintended victim; or
  • A defendant commits a different tort than intended, and against an unintended victim.

Once transferred intent has been established, the defendant will be liable for the injury or harm caused to the plaintiff.

Torts Covered by Transferred Intent

The doctrine of transferred intent covers only intentional torts, not negligence. A personal injury victim may file a civil lawsuit for an intentional tort when the defendant purposely causes harm to the victim. In contrast, a negligence suit is appropriate when the defendant acted carelessly or recklessly, but did not actually intend to cause harm. Transferred intent is generally only applicable to the commission of one of the following five intentional torts:

  • Battery;
  • Assault;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Trespass to land; and
  • Trespass to chattels.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress 

The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is generally not governed by the doctrine of transferred intent. However, an exception exists when:

  • The defendant directed his or her conduct to a member of the plaintiff’s immediate family;
  • The plaintiff was present; and
  • The plaintiff’s presence was known to the defendant.

To satisfy the elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the conduct must have been specifically directed at the plaintiff or to the plaintiff's immediate family.

Establishing liability in a tort case can be difficult, especially if you have to deal with legal theories such as transferred intent. The advice of an experienced attorney can help victims of intentional torts receive compensation for the injuries or loss they sustained as a result of the defendant’s actions. If you have been hurt in an accident and another party was at fault, please contact the skilled San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free consultation today at (408) 289-1417.

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