Taylor v. Vallelunga

District Court of Appeal of California, 1959.

171 Cal.App.2d 107, 339 P.2d 910.

Prosser, p. 60-61


Facts: The defendants beat up the plaintiff’s father in front of the plaintiff.  The plaintiff alleged that this caused her severe emotional distress and sued.  The defendants demurred and the suit was dismissed.  The plaintiff appealed the dismissal.


Issue: Can a witness to a battery state a cause of action for intentional infliction of mental distress?


Rule: In order for the defendants to be liable for intentional infliction of mental distress, the beating must be done for the purpose of causing the plaintiff mental distress, or else the defendants must possess substantial certainty that the beating will cause the plaintiff substantial distress.


Analysis: The court found that the claim failed to allege that either condition for intentional infliction of mental distress was met.


Conclusion: The court affirmed the judgment of dismissal.


Notes and Questions


1.     The intent for intentional infliction of mental distress must be directed at the plaintiff in order for there to be a cause of action.

2.     Can the intent to inflict mental distress be transferred?  Is there a slippery slope problem if this is allowed?  Since intentional infliction of mental distress is not one of the torts that was originally under the writ of trespass, the transferred intent doctrine need not and ought not apply.

3.     The case described involves mental distress that causes physical distress, and this could mean a different tort applies, or there could be a different application of the same tort.

4.     This case differs from the main case in that the defendant was aware to a substantial certainty that his action would cause severe emotional distress in the plaintiff.

5.     The baby sitter knew with substantial certainty that severe emotional distress would be inflicted on the parent, but the baby sitter’s parents (though they might under a different tort be liable for their child’s behavior) could not have known and thus could not have intended to inflict such distress.

6.     I think the plaintiff being present should be considered by the factfinder in determining the severity of the distress and possibly damages, but I don’t think this should be a “black letter” requirement.

7.     It seems problematic to call a dead body a form of property belonging to the next of kin.  As far as blind person X goes, there would be several theories to go on.  If the dead body for this particular purpose can really be considered property, X might have a cause of action for trespass to chattels.  If the dead eye could be considered a part of X’s person, X might have a cause of action for battery.  Maybe the best bet would be to go with intentional infliction of mental distress.  That’s what happened in the Washington case described.

8.     Alright Magruder!


Back to Intentional Infliction of Mental Distress

Back to Casebook Notes