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Mistake in Tort Law

Mistake in Tort Law
Mistake in Tort Law

Whether an error stems from factual misunderstanding or misinterpretation of legal principles, it typically offers no defence against liability. When one intentionally infringes upon another's rights, claiming honest belief as justification holds no weight if no such justification exists in reality.

Actions such as unknowingly trespassing on another's land, mistaking someone else's property as one's own, or inadvertently mixing another's livestock with one's own constitute tortious acts despite the absence of malicious intent.

In Consolidated Co. v. Curtis, an auctioneer, believing goods belonged to a customer, auctioned them and paid the proceeds accordingly. However, it was later revealed that the goods belonged to someone else. Despite the auctioneer's honest belief, liability for conversion was established.

While mistakes generally offer no reprieve, certain exceptions exist. For instance, in cases of malicious prosecution, where an individual is wrongly accused without reasonable cause, liability hinges on proving malice. Likewise, a servant's mistake may absolve the master of vicarious liability if the act falls outside the scope of employment.

However, in actions for deceit, an honest belief in the truth of a statement can serve as a defence. If a defendant genuinely believes in the accuracy of a statement, it may mitigate liability in a deceit claim.


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