Garratt v. Dailey

Following is the case brief for Garratt v. Dailey, Supreme Court of Washington, (1955)

Case summary for Garratt v. Dailey:

  • Five year old Dailey moved a chair out from underneath Garratt, and as a result, Garratt fell breaking her hip.
  • Garratt sued Dailey alleging a tortious battery. The trial court dismissed Garratt’s claim and Garratt appealed.
  • The Washington Supreme Court held that even a five year old minor could be liable for the tort of battery. The plaintiff would have to prove that the child acted intentionally, possessing the knowledge to a substantial certainty that their actions would cause a harmful or offensive contact to another.
  • The Court remanded the decision back to the lower court with instructions to follow the established standard of substantial certainty.

Garratt v. Dailey Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Five year old Brian Dailey was visiting the home of Ruth Garratt. When Garratt was starting to sit down in a chair, Brian moved it, resulting in Garratt’s fall in which she sustained a broken hip. In response, Garratt sued Dailey for battery. Garratt’s sister testified that the five year old intentionally pulled the chair out from underneath Garratt, which the trial court did not believe. The trial court did believe Dailey’s  testimony that he claimed to move the chair to sit in it and intended to replace the chair to prevent the fall.

As a result of both testimonies, the court concluded that the boy did not possess a willful or unlawful purpose or intent to hurt Garratt at the time he moved the chair. Although the judge dismissed the action, the court still determined that Garratt had suffered $11,000 in damages.

Procedural History:

Garratt appealed to the Supreme Court of Washington.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Even a minor can be liable for a tortious battery if they acted intentionally and with the knowledge that to a substantial certainty that their actions would cause a harmful or offensive touching to another.

Issue and Holding:

Whether a five year old can be held liable for a tortious battery? Yes.

Judgment:

The Court remanded the decision to the trial court with directions to decide on whether Dailey knew with substantial certainty that Garratt would try to sit in the chair after he Dailey moved it.

Reasoning:

  • The state Supreme Court held that it is possible for a five year old to be liable for a tortious battery if they possess the required intent.

The court defined a battery as:

  • An intentional act done to cause a harmful or offensive contact or an apprehension of such contact to another person,
  • Absent valid consent or privilege.

For an act to be regarded as intentional, it must have been performed to “cause the contact or apprehension or with knowledge…” that such contact or apprehension is substantially certain to occur.

The standard of “substantial certainty” is required for intentional tort liability to properly attach. The court held that a child’s “experience, capacity, and understanding” may be considered when determining what they knew.

Here, there is no doubt Garratt did not consent to having five year old Dailey move the chair. Dailey’s age is not conclusive in determining liability. The court answered the question of whether Dailey had the required intent for tortious liability. Dailey acted voluntary when he moved the chair from underneath Garratt. The court determined that If Dailey intended for Garratt to fall as a result of moving the chair, liability should attach.

Intent may be established by showing that Dailey knew with substantial certainty that Garratt was going to attempt to sit where the chair had been. This standard is not established from the evidence presented at trial and the case is remanded back to the lower court.

Significance:

This case set out the intent standard of substantial certainty for intentional torts, such as battery. It also makes clear that a five year old child may be held personally liable for intentional torts they commit.

Student Resources:

http://law.justia.com/cases/washington/supreme-court/1956/33663-1.html
https://h2o.law.harvard.edu/collages/848

 

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