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Transferred intent is a shift from an intended action against one party, to an action against another, and there does not need to be intent. It applies to any of the intentional torts, including trespass to land, trespass to chattels, assault, battery, and false imprisonment.

Transferred Intent

Suppose your neighbor’s dog barks all night. At wit’s end, you crawl out of bed, grab a rock and throw it in the dog’s direction. Fortunately, for the dog, you do not have a very good aim. You bypassed the barking pooch, but the rock hits your neighbor instead.

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You might say that you did not mean to hit the neighbor and refuse to pay for his injuries. However, the law will see it differently.By tossing the rock toward the dog, you committed trespass to chattels. This means you attempted to interfere with another person’s enjoyment of their personal property, the dog.

However, by missing the dog but hitting the neighbor instead, transferred intent occurred, and the liability shifted from the trespass to chattels – attempting to strike the dog – to battery against your neighbor.If the following occurred, transferred intent is probably present:

  • A tort would have been committed if contact with the original party occurred
  • A tort was committed to an unintended party, resulting in damages

In a legal brief of high importance, we will learn that the law does not recognize intent when ruling on cases where an innocent victim becomes the target of assault and battery.

Talmage v.

Smith (Mich. 1894)

Although this case took place quite a long time ago, it substantially explains the doctrine of transferred intent.Smith owned property in Michigan. On his property were several sheds. The sheds were a temptation to the local children.Fed up with noise coming from the kids playing on the shed roofs, Smith confronted several of them and asked that they leave his property.

A few left, and a few others remained.Not satisfied, Smith returned to the area of his property where the sheds stood. He picked up a large stick and threw it at one of the boys – the first boy he saw, to be exact. As the first boy ducked from the projectile, another boy, named Talmage, was struck in the eye. The blow blinded him permanently.In this case, the court saw the act of throwing the stick as an act of battery. Mostly because of the force it carried.

The court also looked at the two criteria. Let us review:

  • Smith intended to hit one of the boys with the stick (battery)
  • Smith’s intention to commit battery affected a bystander (battery)

To say it a simpler way, Smith intended to commit a battery upon one of the boys occupying his roof. The force he used to throw the stick proved this. He missed his intended target, which was determined to be the first child he saw. He did, in fact, hit an unintended target, causing severe injury and blindness.The court ruled in favor of Talmage.

Smith was liable for the injuries the boy sustained.

Lesson Summary

To sum things up, transferred liability occurs when one of the five torts was committed against an intended party but actually occurs to another party, like throwing a rock at your victim but it actually hitting an innocent bystander.When this occurs, the law looks at a couple of things:

  • A tort would have been committed if contact with the original party occurred
  • A tort was committed to an unintended party resulting in damages

If both statements can be proven true, liability can also be proven.

In our landmark case, Talmage v. Smith, the defendant was held liable for his actions, even though it was not his intention to injure a third party.

Learning Outcomes

After you’ve completed this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Define transferred liability and transferred intent
  • List the factors that must be met in order to find liability using transferred intent
  • Summarize the facts and ruling of the case Talmage v. Smith

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