McGuire v. Almy

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1937.

297 Mass. 323, 8 N.E.2d 760.

Prosser, p. 25-27


Facts: Almy was an insane person under the care of McGuire.The plaintiff entered a room where the defendant was having a fit and tried to grab a leg of a chair from her.The defendant hit her with the leg.The plaintiff sued for battery.


Issue: Is an insane person liable for their torts?


Rule: Though there wasnít an established rule in Massachusetts, other courts had found that broadly speaking, insane people are liable. The court establishes the rule that an insane person is as liable as a normal person when he does intentional damage to people or property.


Analysis: The court reasons that if children can be liable for torts, insane people ought to be liable as well.As a policy matter, the court says that if insane persons are liable for torts, it will make those caring for them more careful to keep them from hurting others.


Conclusion: The court upheld the verdict for the plaintiff.


Notes and Questions


1.     A person who is mentally ill may intend to hit Zarg the Space God and instead hit Aunt Nellie.The doctrine of transferred intent will say that theyíre liable for hitting Aunt Nellie even though they didnít form the intent to hit her in particular.Intent seems to be different from fault, and fault isnít necessary for an intentional tort, but fault is harder to argue for.

2.     Wouldnít it be simpler if the requirements for criminal and civil law were harmonized?

3.     I would be interested in the view of experts in mental health and cognitive science.

4.     The policy implication would be that those employed to care for a mentally ill person should be capable of taking care of themselves as well as the ill person.

5.     If you can prove someone doesnít know what the truth is, it seems to make sense that you could show it was impossible for them to deceive anyone.

6.     It seems like you can have negligence actions almost all the time.

7.     If youíre drunk, it would seem that itís less of an excuse than being insane, especially if you chose to get drunk.Itís one thing to say that you canít form intent, but it seems as though being drunk just sort of mutates your intent.


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