Intentional injuries are caused when one person intentionally harms another. For a person to be liable for an intentional injury, there must be intent to cause the specific injury. However, there are five injury causes of action where the intention to cause a specific injury may be transferred if one of the other five injuries occurs.

To prove that a defendant has committed an intentional tort, a plaintiff needs to prove negligence and that the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must prove the defendant breached that duty, which caused injury to the plaintiff. Even if the defendant intended to harm another person but then injured the plaintiff, the plaintiff could hold the defendant liable even if the defendant did not intend to harm the plaintiff.

When Does Transferred Intent Apply?

Transferred intent applies only to five intentional injury causes of action: assault and battery, false imprisonment, trespass to land, and trespass to chattel. Under transferred intent, the intention to commit one of the following causes of action can result in liability for one of the other five causes of action if one should occur.

Transferred intent would apply 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.

What is the Purpose of Transferred Intent?

Transferred intent permits the intent requirement of one of the five intentional causes of action to satisfy the intent requirement of the other. That means that proving intent for an injury caused unintentionally is bypassed because the intent to cause one results in liability should one of the other five occur.

Does Transferred Intent Transfer to Different Parties?

Transferred intent allows the intent to transfer from one victim to another. If person A swings a bat with the intent to hit person B, but instead hits person C, person A would be liable for the battery to person C even though there was never any intention to hit person C.

Does Transferred Intent Transfer to Different Torts?

In addition to intent being transferred from person to person, intent can be transferred from a tort to an unintended tort. If a defendant intends to commit a tort against one person but commits a different tort against that same person, the defendant can still be held liable for the unintended tort.

Does Transferred Intent Apply to All Intentional Injuries?

The doctrine of transferred intent covers only five intentional torts. Transferred intent is generally only applicable to one of the following five intentional torts:

  • Battery;
  • Assault;
  • False imprisonment;
  • Trespass to land; and
  • Trespass to chattels.

Transferred Intent in Criminal Law

Transferred intent is a concept that allows for guilt to follow the action, regardless of who the victim is.

That way, if Greg tries to kill Ben by shooting him but misses and kills Randy instead, Greg may be found just as criminally liable for the death of Randy as he would have been for the death of Bob had he succeeded in his original intention. The doctrine of transferred intent is borrowed from tort law and applied in criminal law contexts.

Most transferred intent cases involve people missing their true target with firearms or thrown projectiles. These cases can be referred to as “bad aim” cases.

However, if Clancy tries to kill Harry by poison and his wife drinks the fatal cup instead, then the doctrine of transferred intent may allow Clancy to be found as guilty of his wife’s death as he would have been had he succeeded in the murder of Harry. Likewise, with arson, sexual assault, larceny, and every other crime, if the defendant perpetrates the act and there is a victim, the defendant may be punished no matter who the victim was or was intended to be.

In general, criminal courts have restricted the use of the transferred intent doctrine. For example, if Greg tries to shoot Bob but instead breaks Randy’s window and puts a hole in his wall, Greg will probably not be found guilty of malicious injury to property. His intention to harm Bob’s person is of a different kind than the desire to harm property, and therefore intent will probably not be transferred.

How is Transferred Intent Prosecuted?

Transferred intent prosecutions may involve more than just the single victim the defendant intended to injure. A defendant who fired a bullet into a car containing four passengers could be connected on four counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The defendant could argue that by shooting just one bullet, they could not have intended to commit a battery on all four victims. However, when a defendant commits an intentional act of violence toward one person, any other person who was victimized could form a separate prosecution.

In some states, the transferred intent principle does not apply only to physically violent crimes. In these states, if a person attempts to scare another person by brandishing a knife, and multiple other people see the knife and become scared, the defendant can be charged with assault with a dangerous weapon by every person who saw the knife.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is generally not covered by the doctrine of transferred intent. However, exceptions exist when:

  • The defendant directed their conduct to a member of the plaintiff’s immediate family
  • The plaintiff was present
  • 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 the plaintiff’s immediate family.

Defenses to Intentional Torts

Depending on the tort claim, several defenses may apply, allowing the defendant to avoid liability for their conduct. One of the most common tort defenses is self-defense. A defendant is not liable for conduct that was meant to protect themselves from a plaintiff’s attack. If the plaintiff started a fight or harmed the defendant first, the defendant likely won’t be liable for responding to the plaintiff’s attack.

Another common tort defense is consent. If the plaintiff consented to the defendant’s conduct, the plaintiff could not sue the defendant for the conduct. For example, if you consented to participate in a fight, you cannot sue the other person for getting hurt from the fight.

How Does Transferred Intent Apply to Personal Injury Cases?

In intentional tort cases, you are required to show that the defendant intended to commit the act that caused you to suffer. You’re required to prove that the defendant specifically intended to harm you. As long as you can show that the defendant intended the alleged act and the harmful results were certain to occur, you can file a lawsuit under an intentional tort claim. If your claim is successful, you could receive compensation for your medical expenses and any pain and suffering that resulted from the defendant’s conduct.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If you have suffered an intentional injury, you should contact a personal injury attorney. A personal injury lawyer can help you receive compensation for your injury. If you believe that transferred intent exists, tell your attorney. Any information about the person’s intent causing the injury will help resolve your case.