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What is Malfeasance?
Legal Definition, Types & Examples

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Malfeasance comes from the Old French word mesfeance, which means "evil-doing." It usually refers to illegal or unethical conduct when applied to public officials.

While the word is often used concerning public officials, it can also apply to private individuals. It can happen to you at the office or in your personal life. With years of experience under our belt, lawyers at Schmidt&Clark have had numerous encounters with malfeasance cases. Here’s what it usually entails.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • Malfeasance can refer to illegal activity or unethical, morally wrong behavior that doesn't break any laws
  • The term refers to criminal acts and civil wrongs done by people in positions of power
  • The definition of malfeasance is the misconduct or wrongdoing on behalf of a public official

What Is Malfeasance?

Malfeasance is a legal definition of illegal actions or wrongdoing by a public official [1]. The definition of Malfeasance encompasses both criminal acts and civil wrongs that a public official perpetrates in positions of power, such as government officials, politicians, judges, police officers, corporate officers, and others.

3 Types of Malfeasance

There are three types of malfeasance: tort law, corporate law, and civil law. Now let us talk about each in detail.

1. Malfeasance in Tort Law

An office worker drinking inside the office

Malfeasance is a more serious type of wrongdoing than nonfeasance or misfeasance.

  • Malfeasance is when someone does something bad on purpose.
  • Nonfeasance is when someone doesn't do something they were supposed to do.
  • Misfeasance is when someone does something that's legal but still harms someone.

The definition of malfeasance in tort law means doing something that is against the law but done in a way that harms or injures others knowingly exceeding authority. Misfeasance means doing something legal that is harmful to other people, even if the person hurting the other individual did not do it on purpose. Sometimes when someone does something bad, it causes harm to other people unintentionally.

If you do something that harms someone else, even if it's not illegal, it's called misfeasance. In some situations, someone has to do something a certain way, but they don't do it right, and that's misfeasance. Usually, people who do this are held responsible because they had a duty of care to do it right.

For example, a city manager lets his indigent cousin file false time cards putting him on the city payroll. The manager knows that this is against the rules but does it anyway. This is Malfeasance. However, if the manager puts his able cousin on the payroll without knowing that this violates an anti-nepotism statute, this would be misfeasance, not Malfeasance. 

The key difference between these two terms is that Malfeasance always involves some intention to do harm, while misfeasance does not.

2. Malfeasance in Corporate Law

Bribery happening under the table

When a company's employee does a wrongful or illegal act on purpose that is against the law or not right, it is called corporate malfeasance. This can be anything from an illegal act to just being unethical. 

For example, if an employee of a company is caught bribing someone to get a contract for their company, that is corporate malfeasance.

Examples of Corporate Malfeasance

There are many types of corporate crimes, most of which cause the person financial damage. Based on my experience, here are the five most common ones.

  • Bribery (financial Malfeasance)
  • Embezzlement, such as the Ponzi scheme (financial Malfeasance)
  • Money Laundering (financial Malfeasance)
  • Insider Trading
  • Extortion

"Corporate malfeasance issues arise in various corporate decision-making contexts and can often result in a breach of fiduciary duty. Corporate directors must understand that they have corporate fiduciary duty responsibilities to the corporation, shareholders and its officers.”
- Frame&Zeller, law firm

3. Malfeasance in Criminal Law

A robber stealing money from a purse inside a house

Criminal malfeasance is a word for an illegal act that harms someone physically or financially, causing both physical and financial damage. The victim can try this in criminal and civil court.

If somebody does this to you, they might have to pay money in a civil suit. Criminal malfeasance can also lead to jail time. The following are examples of criminal malfeasance:

  • Assault - intent to physical harm someone
  • Battery - causing physical injury by unlawfully touching or using force on someone without their consent.
  • Burglary - unlawfully breaking into a building to commit a crime.
  • Arson - unlawfully setting fire to a property.
  • Fraud - using deception to gain something or cause financial harm illegally.
  • Identity Theft - unlawfully taking someone's personal information to commit fraud or another crime.
  • Forgery - making a false document or altering a real one with the intent to deceive.

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FAQs

What is an example of malfeasance?

An example of malfeasance will be securities fraud or if an employee of a company is caught bribing someone to get a contract for their company. 

Is malfeasance a crime?

Yes, Malfeasance is a crime. Malfeasance can be tried in criminal and civil court.

Which is worse, misfeasance or malfeasance?

Malfeasance is worse than misfeasance because it is an illegal act that harms someone physically or financially.

What is an example of misfeasance in the police?

An example of misfeasance in the police would be if an officer used excessive force when arresting a suspect. The officer did not break the law but used more force than necessary, which harmed the suspect.

Can You Sue for Malfeasance?

Individuals can sue for malfeasance. If somebody does this to you, they might have to pay money in a civil suit with the criminal charges of malfeasance. Criminal malfeasance can also lead to jail time.

To sue for malfeasance, you must be able to prove that the person knew what they were doing was wrong and illegal. You also must be able to show that you were harmed because of their actions.

That is why it is important to talk to a lawyer if you think you have been a victim of malfeasance. If you feel you have a case, contact Schmidt & Clark for your free consultation with our legal team; they will ensure you get the money and justice you deserve.


References:

  1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/malfeasance

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