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Defenses to Intentional Torts by Mind Map: Defenses to Intentional Torts
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Defenses to Intentional Torts

A defense seeks to explain away why an intentional tort was committed. In other words, the Defendant says, “Yes, I did it, but…”   Some defenses are absolute defenses, which means that if the jury or judge believes the defense, the Defendant will not be liable to the Plaintiff as a matter of law.


When a person uses self-defense as a defense, the Defendant is admitting that he or she used violence against the Plaintiff, but offers an explanation as to why. The Defendant is, in effect, claiming that he or she only used force to protect himself or someone else.   The response must be equal to the threat. If deadly force is not used by the Plaintiff, the Defendant may not use deadly force. When threatened with minimal force, minimal force should be used in defense.   There are some situations in which self-defense may not be used. For example: 1.   Self-defense may not be claimed when the Defendant uses excessive force. 2.   Aggressors, or people who start a fight, may not use the legal defense of self-defense. An exception to this rule is when the aggressor has voluntarily stopped fighting. The other person can’t then continue to fight. 3.   Self-defense is not usually available to specially trained fighters or martial artists, as these people are held to a greater responsibility under the law.   A person may use self-defense as a legal defense when he or she is protecting a third person against violence. The violence must have been necessary and the force must match the force of the attacker.   Personal property may not be protected with deadly force, so someone who does so cannot use the legal defense of self-defense.

Mutual Combat

Mutual combat is closely related to self-defense. It claims that the parties voluntarily entered into a fight. There are limitations to this defense, in that if one of the parties escalates the violence, the defense of mutual combat will not be available.


The defense of duress is used when the Defendant uses force, threat, or intimidation to overcome the Plaintiff’s will or to compel the Plaintiff to do (or not do) some action. So, when a Defendant pleads duress, he or she is saying that (s)he was forced to carry out the act because someone was threatening his or her safety.   The duress can come about through threats, intimidation, or other means. It must be something that reasonable people would agree would cause someone to feel that they must commit a tort.


A defense of consent is based on the premise that the Plaintiff agreed to whatever injury he (s)he received from the Defendant. The Defendant must show that the Plaintiff consented voluntarily once (s)he knew the consequences that might occur. This defense is not available if the Defendant tricks the Plaintiff into giving consent or if the Plaintiff consents without knowing the full facts.   Not everyone is capable of consent. Children and those who are mentally incompetent cannot give consent.


Coercion is closely to duress, and there is no essential difference between them. When a person claims coercion, (s)he is admitting that the act was committed but that (s)he was forced to do so by the threat of physical or other harm.   Coercion, like duress, is judged by the reasonable person standard.


Necessity is similar to duress, in that when a Defendant claims necessity, there is an admission that (s)he carried out the wrong to the Plaintiff, but did so only to avoid some greater catastrophe.


The defense of compulsion goes to the mental state of the Defendant at the time the tort was committed. Compulsion is an overwhelming or irresistible impulse to commit some act.   For example, a person may have kleptomania (the compulsion to steal), or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a disorder in which the affected person has difficulty controlling his or her actions.


When a person claims intoxication as a defense, (s)he is actually saying that because of alcohol, fumes, chemicals, or some other drug, (s)he lacked the ability to carry out intentional actions.   Intoxication may be voluntary or involuntary. A person who voluntarily becomes intoxicated is not able to use intoxication as a defense to a tort action. However, if a person is involuntarily intoxicated, without his or her knowledge or intent, (s)he may use intoxication as a defense.


Mistake can be a valid defense in which the Defendant’s actions would have been permissible but for the Defendant’s legitimate misunderstanding. This defense is used more often in contract law than in tort law.


In almost all jurisdictions, a child under the age of 7 is not considered to be responsible for his or her actions, because it is thought that a young child will not understand the consequences of his or her actions.


When a person raises the defense of insanity, (s)he is saying that (s)he is not legally responsible for the actions. The question is: What is insanity? In most jurisdictions, the standard to determine legal insanity is that the Defendant, at the time that the tort was committed, did not know the difference between right and wrong. A person can be mentally disturbed to a great degree and not be considered to be legally insane.


The claim of immunity is a defense that states that the Plaintiff is legally barred from suing the Defendant and the lawsuit must be dismissed. Immunity is reserved for people in specific professions or special circumstances. Public officials are immune from suit when carrying out duties that are a part of their jobs. Police officers who make lawful arrests, judges who sit on cases, and the court clerk are examples of official immune to tort suits. Immunity only applies when the official is acting in his or her professional capacity. It does not apply when the person is off-duty.


            When Defendant claim privilege, they are agreeing that they committed the act, but that the act is protected from lawsuit by statute or other law. Again, an example is the police officer who makes a lawful arrest. The officer is permitted to touch (or commit the tort of battery) the suspect in order to arrest him or her.

Statute of Limitations

All torts have statutes of limitations that limit the time in which the case can be brought. If not brought before the time limit runs, the case is forever barred. Statutes of Limitations are designed to encourage Plaintiffs to bring actions quickly and to provide closure to potential legal claims.

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