Garratt v. Dailey

Supreme Court of Washington, 1955.

46 Wash.2d 197, 279 P.2d 1091.

Prosser, p. 17-20


Facts: Garratt is an arthritic old lady.  Dailey is a kid.  Garrett started to sit down, but Dailey moved the chair she was going to sit in before she could sit down, and she fell and was injured.  She sued Dailey for battery.  The lower court found for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed to the State Supreme Court, asking for damages or a new trial.


Issue: Did the defendant intend to cause harm to the plaintiff?


Rule: If the defendant “knew with substantial certainty” that his actions would cause harmful contact, then the defendant is liable for battery.


Analysis: The judge relies on the Restatement for guidance.


Conclusion: The court remanded the case back to the trial court for clarification.  The court instructed the trial court to determine whether the defendant “knew with substantial certainty” that he would cause harmful contact.  The trial court subsequently found for the plaintiff and awarded her damages.


Notes and Questions


1.     I think one way Ms. Garratt’s lawyer could prove actual damages is to introduce Ms. Garratt’s medical bills from her fractured hip as evidence at trial.  Maybe if she has to buy a bunch of painkillers as she recovers, she can bring in the receipts from the drug store.  If she worked and was missing work due to the injury, I suppose she can cite her lost wages.

2.     If I were the trial judge, my confidence in my original findings of fact would be shaken even if the case were remanded purely on the basis of law.  I would feel as though if I had done right in my factfinding, the appellate court probably would have been more likely to let small legal issues slide.  I would also feel like I would want to do something different so that the delay was, in effect, worth it.

3.     The appellate court said that you can be liable for battery whether you’re “five or fifty-five”.  It seems as though there must be some limit to this.  It’s hard to imagine that a newborn baby, for example, is capable of volitional action.  Most of what they do could be said to be involuntary.  So where do you draw the line?  I suppose you can say it’s a matter for the factfinder to consider.  When we say “fault”, do we simply mean liability?  In the bow and arrow case, the boy’s liability would depend on whether he knew with “substantial certainty” that firing the bow and arrow would cause harm.  If he was aiming at the girl, it seems very possible that he knew.  It would be different if this were a Nerf bow and arrow versus a real bow and arrow.

4.     This is clearly battery if we can say the two-year-old is capable of intending anything.  In particular, if the two-year-old subjectively knew that the infant was a person and not an object or food or something, then it’s not hard to be substantially certain that you’re going to harm that other person.

5.     Newborns probably don’t have malice; I know from personal experience that six-year-olds can have a malicious state of mind.  This should be a matter for the factfinder to determine.


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