Role of Motive, Intention and Malice in Torts

Author: Ayushi Verma

Role of Motive, Intention and Malice in Torts


A Motive signifies the person’s state of mind. It means the ulterior reason for the conduct. It is different from intention. As a general rule, the motive is not relevant to determine a person’s liability in the Law of Torts. A wrongful act does not become lawful merely because the motive is good. Similarly, a lawful act does not become wrongful because of a bad motive.

In the case of Bradford Corporation v. Pickels[1] , It was held that a lawful act does not become unlawful merely because of an evil motive. In this case, the defendant made certain excavations on his land as a result of which water was flowing from his land to the adjacent land of the Corporation. The motive behind this was to coerce the plaintiff to buy the defendant’s land at a high price. Although the damage was caused maliciously at the same time, the defendant was making lawful use of his land. Defendants were held not liable in this case by the House of Lords. Lord Macnaughten said, “In such a case motives are immaterial. It is the act not the motive for the act, that must be regarded. If the act apart from the motive gives rise merely to damage without legal injury, the motive, however reprehensible it may be, will not supply that element.”

Also, in the case of Allen v. Flood[2], it was held that motive was irrelevant in the Law of Torts.


In some cases, Motive becomes relevant in determining liability under the Law of Torts.

  • In the case of, Balak Glass Emporium v. United India Insurance Co. Ltd.,[3]in a multi-storeyed building, water from above escaped to the lower floor, occupied by the plaintiff. There was evidence of ill-will between the plaintiff and the defendant. The tap was left fully open and the outlet of the tank was also closed. The said act was done by the defendant with the wrong intentions and hence the plaintiff was held liable.
  • In the torts deceit, conspiracy, malicious prosecution and injurious falsehood, one of the essentials to be proved by the plaintiff is malice on the part of the defendant.
  • Malice or evil motive may result in aggravation of damages.


Intention plays a major role in the Law of Torts. Based on Intention, a tort can be divided into two broad categories:

1. Intentional Tort

An intentional tort is a category of torts that describes a civil wrong resulting from an intentional act on the part of the tortfeasor (alleged wrongdoer).[4]

Intentional Tort includes:

a) Battery

A Battery consists of touching another person hostilely or against his will, however, slightly.

b) Assault

Section 351 of the Indian Penal Code defines assault as:

“Whoever makes a gesture or any preparation, intending or knowing it to be likely that such gesture of preparation will cause any person to apprehended that he who makes that gesture or preparation is about to use criminal force to that person, is said to commit assault.”

c) False Imprisonment

False imprisonment consists of total restraint for some period, however short, upon the liberty of another without sufficient lawful justification. The restraint may be either physical or by mere show of authority.

d) Trespass

Trespass is wrongful interference with land which is in the possession of the plaintiff.

2. Unintentional Tort

An unintentional tort is a type of unintended accident that leads to injury, property damage, or financial loss. In the event of an unintentional tort, the person who caused the accident did so inadvertently and typically because they were not being careful. The person who caused the accident is considered negligent because they failed to exercise the same degree of care that a reasonable person would have in the same situation.[5]


The term ‘Malice’ has been used in two different senses:

  1. In its legal sense, it means a willful act done without just cause or excuse and it is known as ‘Malice in Law’.
  2. In its narrow and popular sense, it means an evil motive and it is known as ‘Malice in Fact’.

In the case of Town Area Committee v. Prabhu Dayal,[6] the court held that a legal act, though motivated by malice, will not make the action liable to pay damages.

In the words of Justice Hari Swaroop, “mere malice cannot disentitle a person from taking recourse of law for getting the wrong undone. It is, therefore, not necessary to investigate whether the action is motivated by malice or not.”

[1]Bradford Corporation v. Pickels (1895) A .C. 587

[2] Allen v. Flood (1898) A.C. 1

[3] Balak Glass Emporium v. United India Insurance Co. Ltd. AIR 1993 Ker. 342



[6] Town Area Committee v. Prabhu Dayal AIR 1975 AII. 132