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Intentional; not accidental; voluntary; designed.

There is no precise definition of the term willful because its meaning largely depends on the context in which it appears. It generally signifies a sense of the intentional as opposed to the inadvertent, the deliberate as opposed to the unplanned, and the voluntary as opposed to the compelled. After centuries of court cases, it has no single meaning, whether as an adjective (willful) or an adverb (willfully).

Statutes and case law have adapted the term willful to the particular circumstances of action and inaction peculiar to specific areas of the law, including tort law, criminal law, workers' compensation, and Unemployment Compensation. A willful violation, for example, may mean a deliberate intent to violate the law, an intent to perform an act that the law forbids, an intent to refrain from performing an act that the law requires, an indifference to whether or not action or inaction violates the law, or some other variant.

In criminal-law statutes, willfully ordinarily means with a bad purpose or criminal intent, particularly if the proscribed act is mala in se (an evil in itself, intrinsically wrong) or involves moral turpitude. For example, willful murder is the unlawful killing of another individual without any excuse or Mitigating Circumstances. If the forbidden act is not wrong in itself, such as driving over the speed limit, willfully is used to mean intentionally, purposefully, or knowingly.

Under workers' compensation acts, willful misconduct by an employee means that he intentionally performed an act with the knowledge that it was likely to result in serious injuries or with reckless disregard of its probable consequences. A finding of "willful misconduct" prevents the employee from being awarded compensation for his injuries.

Under unemployment compensation laws, an employee who is fired on willful misconduct grounds is not entitled to recover unemployment compensation benefits. Common examples of such willful misconduct include excessive absenteeism, habitual lateness, deliberate violations of an employer's rules and regulations, reporting for work in an intoxicated condition, and drinking alcoholic beverages while on the job.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


adj. referring to acts which are intentional, conscious, and directed toward achieving a purpose. Some willful conduct which has wrongful or unfortunate results is considered "hardheaded," "stubborn" and even "malicious." Example: "The defendant's attack on his neighbor was willful." (See: willfully)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
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In as much as the respondents are convinced that their liberties, as contained in the constitution, are being infringed and they impute willfulness and bad faith on the part of the applicant, such inferences have been rebutted by demonstrating that he did what was sincerely believed to be in accordance with the court order', the judges ruled.
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Ahmed opens the book with a short tale by the Grimm brothers titled the "The Willful Child." The willful child is young girl whose willfulness is articulated by her idiosyncratic actions, "her arms outstretched," and through her disobedience.