An intentional tort is a type of civil wrong in the United States, in which a person deliberately violates a legal duty to another party. Torts are private actions that one individual can bring against another individual. They are distinct from crimes, which must be prosecuted by the federal government.
Under the United States system, tort law allows a victim of another person's actions to receive monetary compensation for damages those actions cause. If a person commits a tort, he is referred to as a "tortfeasor." The victim of that tort can bring a private civil action against the tortfeasor to recover actual monetary damages, and in some cases also to recover punitive damages.
Torts in the United States are divided into two types: intentional torts and negligence. If a person commits an intentional tort, this means that he intentionally violated a legal duty he owed to the victim. This is different from a negligent tort, in which the tortfeasor violated the duty to exercise reasonable care in his actions with others.
The distinction between an intentional tort and a negligent tort is important for several reasons. First, if an individual wants to sue for an intentional tort, he must prove that the tortfeasor acted with "intent." This is a separate legal requirement that the plaintiff must fulfill, in addition to proving all the other facts of the case and proving actual damages.
Intentional torts also increase the possibility that the tortfeasor will have to pay punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages designed to punish the tortfeasor, as opposed to merely compensating the victim. Punitive damages can sometimes be several times the amount of actual damages the victim incurred.
In addition, a person generally cannot purchase insurance to indemnify himself against intentional torts. This means, for example, that while a person's car insurance would pay the damages he negligently caused if he was sued, his car insurance would not pay if he intentionally ran someone over with his vehicle. It is not possible to purchase insurance to protect against liability for intentional torts as a matter of public policy.
Intentional torts include assault, battery, false imprisonment, conversion, and various trespass actions. Certain other actions in which a person intentionally wrongs another may also be considered intentional torts. An individual who faces a lawsuit for committing an intentional tort may also face criminal charges for his actions, but the criminal proceedings are separate legal proceedings with a higher burden of proof than that required to prove the tort action.