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A term used in Tort Law to describe an act that is legal but performed improperly.
Generally, a civil defendant will be liable for misfeasance if the defendant owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty of care by improperly performing a legal act, and the improper performance resulted in harm to the plaintiff.
For example, assume that a janitor is cleaning a restroom in a restaurant. If he leaves the floor wet, he or his employer could be liable for any injuries resulting from the wet floor. This is because the janitor owed a duty of care toward users of the restroom, and he breached that duty by leaving the floor wet.
In theory, misfeasance is distinct from Nonfeasance. Nonfeasance is a term that describes a failure to act that results in harm to another party. Misfeasance, by contrast, describes some affirmative act that, though legal, causes harm. In practice, the distinction is confusing and uninstructive. Courts often have difficulty determining whether harm resulted from a failure to act or from an act that was improperly performed.
To illustrate, consider the example of the wet bathroom floor. One court could call a resulting injury the product of misfeasance by focusing on the wetness of the floor. The washing of the floor was legal, but the act of leaving the floor wet was improper. Another court could call a resulting injury the product of nonfeasance by focusing on the janitor's failure to post a warning sign.
Kionka, Edward J. 1988. Torts. St. Paul, Minn.: West.
n. management of a business, public office or other responsibility in which there are errors and an unfortunate result through mistake or carelessness, but without evil intent and/or violation of law. Misfeasance is distinguished from "malfeasance" which is conduct in violation of the law. (See: malfeasance)
misfeasancedoing something, essentially legal, wrongly, as opposed to not doing something at all that should have been done (which is called non-feasance).
A species of the tort is misfeasance in public office. Traditionally this was the case of directed malice intended to injure a person - the exercise of public power for an ulterior motive. The House of Lords has recently given new life to the tort by holding that a public officer would be liable for the tort if he acted in the knowledge of or with reckless indifference to the illegality of his acts or with reckless indifference to the probability of causing injury to the particular plaintiff or a class of which the plaintiff was a member. This form of the tort depends upon the absence of an honest belief by the officer that his act was lawful.
MISFEASANCE, torts, contracts. The performance of an act which might
lawfully be done, in an improper manner, by which another person receives an
injury. It differs from malfeasance, (q.v.) or, nonfeasance (q.v.) Vide,
generally, 2 Vin. Ab. 35; 2 Kent, Com. 443; Doct. Pl. 62; Story, Bail. Sec.
2. It seems to be settled that there is a distinction between misfeasance and nonfeasance in the case of mandates. In cases of nonfeasance, the mandatary is not generally liable, because his undertaking being gratuitous, there is no consideration to support it; but in cases of misfeasance, the common law gives a remedy for the injury done, and to the extent of that injury. 5 T. R. 143; 4 John. Rep. 84; Story, Bailment, Sec. 165; 2 Ld. Raym. 909, 919, 920; 2 Johns. Cas. 92; Doct. & Stu. 210; 1 Esp. R. 74; 1 Russ. Cr. 140; Bouv. Inst. Index h.t.