Transferred Intent

Related Videos:

Terms:


Transferred Intent:
A legal doctrine which allows the intent to be shifted from intentional tort that the defendant tried to commit to the intentional tort the defendant actually committed.


Now that we have discussed the six intentional torts, we will briefly examine the doctrine of transferred intent.

Transferred intent is a doctrine that allows the defendant to be held liable for an intentional tort he intended to commit against A but, instead, accidentally committed against B. That is to say, if the defendant intended to commit an assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass to land or trespass to chattels against A, but, in the attempt to commit one of these torts against A, accidentally commits the tort against B, the defendant can be held liable for the tort against B. See Talmage v. Smith, 59 N.W. 656 (Mich. 1894).

Please note that intentional infliction of emotional distress is not governed by the doctrine of transferred intent. Please also note that transferred intent applies even where the tort committed against B was not the tort the defendant intended to commit against A. As long as the defendant intended to commit one of the five listed torts against A and ends up committing one of the five listed torts against B, transferred intent will apply. For example:

Smokey intended to commit an assault against Joe, but instead commits a battery against Wood. Smokey can be sued for battery by Wood because the intent that Smokey had to assault Joe is transferred to his battering of wood.

In order to apply transferred intent you must ask two questions:

  1. If contact had been made with the intended object, would there have been a tort?
  2. If the object with which contact was made had been the intended target, would there have been a tort?

If the answer to both questions is “yes”, transferred intent will apply. If the answer to either or both questions in “no”, transferred intent will not apply.

Let us use our two step analysis for the following examples:

Daphne points a gun at Marty’s dog with the intent of shooting and killing it. Daphne is not a very good shot and she ends up unintentionally shooting Marty in the foot.

Question (1): If contact had been made with the intended object (Marty’s dog), would there have been a tort? The answer is yes (trespass to chattels).

Question (2): If the object with which contact was made (Marty) had been the intended target, would there have been a tort? The answer again is yes (battery).

Because the answer to both questions is “yes” we transfer Daphne’s intent to shoot the dog to the resulting injury to Marty and hold Daphne liable for the intentional tort of battery.

Let us consider two other hypothetical situations:

EXAMPLE 1: Daphne points a gun at her own dog with the intent of shooting and killing it. Daphne is not a very good shot and ends up unintentionally shooting Marty in the foot.

Question (1): If contact had been made with the intended object (Daphne’s dog), would there have been a tort? The answer is no (there is no tort involved in destroying your own property).

Question (2): If the object with which contact was made (Marty) had been the intended target, would there have been a tort? The answer here is yes (battery).

The truth is, once you have answered “no” to the first question, you do not have to ask the second question at all. In any case, since Daphne’s intended action, shooting her own dog, would not have resulted in an actionable tort, there can be no transfer of intent and Daphne will not be liable for a tort against Marty.

EXAMPLE 2: Daphne throws a rock at Marty. Marty sees the rock coming toward him and ducks out of the way. The rock flies past Marty and breaks a window in Frasier’s house.

Question (1): If contact had been made with the intended object (Marty), would there have been a tort? The answer is yes (battery).

Question (2): If the object with which contact was made (Frasier’s window) had been the intended target, would there have been a tort? The answer here again is yes (trespass to land).

Therefore, in this case, we can transfer intent and Daphne would be liable for the trespass to land.

Please note that Daphne would be liable for an assault on Marty as well as the trespass.



Related Videos: