Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 6, 2012

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Patti Labelle settled a lawsuit against her by paying $100,000 this week.  The R&B diva was sued for her behavior in an argument between a mother of an 18 month old child who was, apparently, acting too unruly for Ms. Labelle’s tastes.  The singer, living in New York while she appeared in the Broadway production of “Fela!,” allegedly shouted curses at the mother and hurled a water bottle at towards the child in an effort to keep the infant quiet.  The incident occurred in November of 2010 in the lobby of the apartment building where the mother and her daughter live, and where Ms. Labelle was staying for the duration of her performance.

While most personal injury cases allege the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff to suffer a harm, there are many cases, like this one, which instead arise from intentional misbehavior.  Intentional tort lawsuits arise when a defendant has committed an act that has intended to harm a plaintiff, such as assault or battery.  Unlike a negligence case which requires a plaintiff to prove a breach of a duty that the defendant owed the plaintiff, an intentional tort case will depend on the plaintiff’s ability to prove that the defendant’s intentional acts caused them harm.  Proving this will often come down to evidence that supports the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant committed the action alleged.  In this respect, lawsuits over intentional acts are similar to criminal prosecutions, however, the burden of proof is much lower for plaintiffs in civil suits than it is for state prosecutors. 

In a criminal prosecution, the state must demonstrate that the defendant committed the crime beyond any reasonable doubt.  This means that if the jury has any cause to doubt the defendant’s guilt, then they should acquit.  However, in a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff only needs to show that it is more than likely the defendant committed the act that injured the plaintiff.  This standard is much lower, and leaves room for a judge or a jury to doubt the defendant’s involvement, but still find for the plaintiff.   You may remember OJ Simpson being acquitted for murder, but being forced to pay a significant  judgment to the families of Rondald Goldman and Nicole Brown because he lost a wrongful death civil suit that essentially levied the same accusations against him.  In that case, the jury in the criminal case could not find evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but a civil jury could find that it was more than likely that OJ caused the harm suffered by the family of his alleged victims.

In Patti Labelle’s case, it was likely very easy for the plaintiffs to demonstrate that Ms. Labelle committed the acts in question.  The only real dispute would likely arise over how much compensation the mother and daughter were owed, and there was very little chance of a trial from the outset.  Over a series of negotiations, the parties were able to settle on an award of $100,000 as compensation and close the matter.

Intentional tort cases like this one are common, and often proceed well after the defendant is tried in a criminal court.  If you are the victim of a crime, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney and make sure you pursue the proper civil action to get compensation you deserve.