Wednesday, November 21, 2012

General vs Specific Intent in Torts

The following question was asked by a reader of the blog:

I understand the distinction between specific intent and general intent crimes, but I've seen questions about this distinction in Torts. Could you elaborate on this?


This distinction is made in the area of intentional torts. The distinction is an important one, because it would be a mistake (on the MBE) to assume that if a person is to be liable for an intentional tort, he needs to desire that his conduct cause some resulting circumstance. Although such a mindset would be sufficient to satisfy the intent requirement, it's not necessary. If a person desires that his conduct cause some resulting circumstances, then the definition of specific intent has been satisfied.

But general intent will also suffice. General intent exists where a person acts knowing with substantial certainty that his conduct will cause the resulting circumstance. (Note that the only distinction here is that this a slightly lesser degree of fault than specific intent which requires knowledge as to the resulting circumstance.)

How this all plays out on the MBE is that an act that may seem negligent can actually satisfy the definition of "intent" for the purposes of an intentional tort if the person who causes harm to another doesn't merely fail to act as a reasonable person would have acted (the standard for negligence), but, rather, acts with substantial certainty that he will cause the harm that eventually results (the standard for general intent).

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