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The Role of Intention in Torts

How intentional does an action have to be to qualify as a tort? Professor Greg Dickinson describes a spectrum of intentionality that is used to determine whether a harm was a tort and, if it was, what type of tort. Battery and assault clearly involve intention, but recklessness and negligence are not as deliberate. https://youtube.com/watch?v=4dTf5gp0BQw


For every tort or, or just about every tort, there's some level of intentionality that's required in order for it to count as a Tort. And this makes sense given tort law is the law of wrongs, where it's governing wrongs done to people. Usually, we think of wrongs as things you do with at least some level of intentionality. But in Tort law, it's on a spectrum, depending on which Tort you're talking about, whether you're talking about assault or battery or trespass or negligence. And so different states of mind, or different levels of intentionality, are required for different Torts. And so you could think of it as something like a spectrum. At one extreme end would be something like: you know, I punched him in the nose and I wanted to, that's exactly what I was trying to do. I punched him in the nose on purpose, and that would be true, pure intentionality. You consciously disregarded a pretty obvious and significant risk; that would be recklessness, which is a different level of intent. You could have negligence, or carelessness, which is maybe the most intuitive. Just, you weren't as careful as you should have been. It was wrong not because you set out to do it, but because you weren't as careful as you should have been, and somebody got hurt. And so there's a whole spectrum of different levels of intent. And depending on what Tort you're talking about, it's going to be a different level of intent that's required in order for that Tort claim to be valid, for it to succeed.

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