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Unintentional Tort: Definition & Example Cases

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 1:50 Examples
  • 3:05 Cases
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you complete this lesson, you will have an understanding of unintentional torts. Moreover, you will review a few case examples of unintentional torts to increase your learning.

Definition

Imagine that you are shopping at the supermarket, and you slip and fall in a puddle of water from a broken freezer. You break your leg and wrist and must miss work. You subsequently file a lawsuit against the supermarket for your injuries. Your lawsuit is based upon negligence, which makes it an unintentional tort.

A tort is a legal wrong. Typically, a tort is an act by one individual that causes harm to another person. The commission of the tort leads to civil liability, which is where one party must pay a monetary penalty. Negligence involves a failure on one party to act the way an ordinary, reasonable person would act. Negligence can result in a physical injury, property damage and other type of loss.

An unintentional tort is one that is negligent, as opposed to intentional torts, which are torts done deliberately. For instance, intentional torts include assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel, slander and trespassing. In these torts, the wrongdoer acts with a purpose to intentionally cause an action to occur. In contrast, unintentional torts occur when the wrongdoer does not intend to cause harm, but harm nevertheless results due to an accident caused by negligence.

Generally speaking, the amount of damages a person gets from an unintentional tort case is less than that of an intentional tort lawsuit. This result usually occurs because there is a strong interest in punishing intentional wrongdoers as a matter of public policy. If the damages were accidental, there's less of a desire to punish a person.

Examples

One way to gain a better understanding of unintentional torts is to review some examples. Let's say that Bob manufactures tires. Unbeknownst to Bob, there is a problem in the tire design. The problem causes the tires to burst at a certain temperature. Cindy is driving a car with Bob's tires and has a blow out. Cindy's car crashes into a ravine, and Cindy sustains serious injuries. In this instance, Bob has committed an unintentional tort because of negligence in the design of his tires. Bob did not intend to harm anyone, but injury still occurred, so the tort is not intentional.

Let's look at another example. Pretend that you are eating a can of soup. After eating the soup, you become severely ill and require hospitalization. You miss work and are hit with huge hospital bills. The hospital later informs you that your medical tests show that you came down with botulism from the soup. You file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the soup based upon the unintentional tort of negligence. The soup company did not purposely put botulism in the soup, so it was an unintentional tort.

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