Ranson v. Kitner

Appellate Court of Illinois, 1889.

31 Ill.App. 241.

Prosser, p. 23-24


Facts: The plaintiff sued the defendant for killing a dog.  The defendants claimed they thought they were shooting a wolf.  The trial court found for the plaintiff, and the defendants appealed.


Issue: Are the defendants liable for trespass to chattels if they intended to harm a fox and not a dog?


Rule: A person is liable for damages caused by a mistake, even if it is made in good faith.


Analysis: We don’t allow mistake as an excuse because we fear that defendants will claim it fraudulently to get out of any liability.


Conclusion: The appellate court upheld the trial court’s verdict.


Notes and Questions


1.     I think the court seeks to distinguish between a mistake as an act where intent “misfired” and an accident as something where an act took place despite there being no intention of acting whatsoever.

2.     I guess we find the fuel oil distributor liable because as a matter of policy we want the distributor to be careful when it fills up fuel tanks.

3.     Mistake does not seem to vitiate intent.  Any reasonable person who shoots at an animal must intend to kill it.  By analogy to Ranson, the surgeon who operates on the wrong patient must be liable for battery even though their intent would have been appropriate if directed at the correct patient.  What about when someone mistakenly does the right thing when they were intending to do wrong?  As a matter of policy, I don’t think this should be an excuse.  This seems to apply in particular when the defendant takes the plaintiff’s property.

4.     Mistakes as to the existence of a privilege are distinguished from mistakes as to fact.

5.     Maybe I will!


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