Elements of Malice and Intention in Law of Torts


Generally, an act, otherwise legal, should not be put into effect by an allegation that it was performed for evil reasons. In itself, an immoral intent doesn’t amount to harm or legal mistake. If an individual is entitled to do something, his intent is meaningless.


A motive is the state of mind of a person that drives him to do an act. Typically, it means the object of the commission of the act. In tort law, the purpose is usually meaningless, just like intent. Motivation contributes to the creation of purpose, which is the ultimate trigger. The motive is the ultimate object with which an act is performed, while the intention is the immediate objective.

The cause that moves individuals to induce a certain action is a motive, in law, especially criminal law. Typically, the legal system allows motive to be proven to make plausible reasons for committing a crime for the accused. However, the motive is not essential for a tort action to be maintained. It is not just because the motive is good that a wrongful act becomes legal. In a similar way, due to an ill motive, legal action doesn’t become an illegal act.

In Bradford Corporation v. Pickles and Allen V. Flood, the decisions of Lord Halsbury and Lord Watson can be regarded as one of the earliest decisions that resolved that intent is irrelevant in tort.

FACTS: The plaintiffs held land below which were water springs that had been used to provide water to Bradford town for more than 40 years. On a higher level than the complainants, the defendant owned property. There was a natural reservoir under the defendant’s land and water drained from this reservoir down to the plaintiff’s springs. However, in order to change the direction of the river, the defendant sunk a shaft into his property. This limited the amount of water that poured into the springs of the plaintiff seriously. There was enough evidence to show that this course of action was followed by the defendant, not to provide him with any direct gain, but merely to deprive the plaintiffs of water. The plaintiffs maintained that this was intentional and was thus entitled to an injunction to prohibit the defendant from behaving in this way.

It was held that the concerned situation was not in which the right to act of a person was driven by the state of mind of the person. If it was a lawful act, he had a right to do it, however ill the motive may be. No use of land, which would be legal if it were for a legitimate reason, may become illegal because it is caused by an unethical or even malicious motive.

In conclusion, we can agree that a good motive is not to excuse unlawful actions otherwise and that a bad motive does not make an otherwise legal act incorrect.


There are certain wrongs in torts that may take the motive of the person into consideration and therefore be relevant while determining liability.

Malicious prosecution, injurious falsehood, and defamation in the event of deceit, where the protection of fair comment or privilege is accessible. Professional privilege protection shall be available only if it has been written in good faith.

Interference with a trade or contractual relations in the event of a conspiracy.

In cases of nuisance, causing personal distress may turn an otherwise lawful act into a nuisance through an unlawful motive.


If an individual causes any injury relating to the victim’s life, property, reputation, etc., a tortious liability can arise. According to tort law, regardless of whether the damage was deliberately or unintentionally caused, liability can be incurred.

A tort can be subdivided into two broad categories depending on the purpose, namely:

  1. Intentional Tort

In order to commit an intentional tort, some action must be taken, i.e. an intention to commit an act must be taken. It is necessary that a mental aspect exists. For instance in the case of Garratt v. Dailey, 46 Wash. 2d 197, 279 P2d 1091 (Wash. 1955)

In 1955, when Ruth Garratt went to sit down, a young boy whose name was Brian pulled a chair from underneath her. Due to Brian’s chair-pulling, Ruth fell and fractured her hip. Ruth lodged a complaint against Brian’s family alleging to have behaved knowingly, resulting in her personal injury. The court found that the act resulted in the hip being fractured and awarded Ruth $11,000 in damages, even though Brian did not plan to cause harm. The family of Brian protested on the grounds that children aged 5 years should not be held responsible for an intentional tort.

The court ruled that children can be found liable and that, if the individual knew with confidence that the act carries a risk of harm, the motivating factor is in effect.

Intentional torts include:

  1. Battery: when physically applying some force to the body of another person in an aggressive manner that causes some damage.
  2. Assault: When the act of one person induces anticipation in the mind of another person that such an act is likely or intended to cause such harm. The distinction between battery and assault is that physical contact is compulsory in the battery, while physical contact is not compulsory in the assault, as the intention is to threaten not to hurt.
  3. False imprisonment: It is the unlawful containment of the entity without his will. It is not necessary to bring a person behind bars, a simple inability to escape against the will of the person from a certain area is sufficient to constitute false imprisonment. It involves the use of physical force, a physical barrier such as a locked space, invalid use of legal force (actual expression of force is not always required).
  4. Trespass: It is a deliberate, unlawful invasion of property, land, individuals, or goods. Unreasonable intervention, however mild it may be, may harass or injure the other individual. The legal right of the owner of the property is violated when the misappropriation or misuse of his right deprives him of his right to profit from the property.


2. Unintentional tort

In the event of unintentional torture, without any mala fide motive, the defendant causes harm to the plaintiff. An unforeseen accident could be called that. The person who caused the injury did this unintentionally because he/she was not careful. It is possible to classify such a person as careless or reckless.

It should be noted that the damage is caused by the lack of the “duty of care” that a fair and cautious man should have considered in the case of unintentional tort.


In the common context, malice means spite or ill-will. When an act, called Malice, is committed with bad intent. When used for reasons other than those authorized by the legislative authority, an act or statement becomes malicious. It implies deliberate wrongdoing in the legal context, without a just cause or justification or lack of a fair or likely cause, and is known as ‘malice in law.’

It underlines here that an act is not just legal because the intent is pleasant. Similarly, because of an illegal, bad, or evil intent or malice, a lawful act does not become wrongful.

“In the case of Town Area Committee v. Prabhu Dayal AIR 1975 All 132, the court noted that “a person cannot be disentitled by mere malice from taking recourse to the law to undo the wrong. Therefore, it is not appropriate to analyze whether the conduct is or is not motivated by malice.

CHRIST UNIVERSITY 1st year student

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