Law School Case Brief
Alcorn v. Mitchell - 63 Ill. 553 (1872)
It is customary to instruct juries that they may give vindictive damages where there are circumstances of malice, willfulness, wantonness, outrage, and indignity attending the wrong complained of.
There was a trial of an action of trespass between the parties, wherein Alcorn was defendant, in the circuit court of Jasper county. At the close of the trial the court adjourned, and, immediately upon the adjournment, in the court room, in the presence of a large number of persons, Mitchell deliberately spat in the face of Alcorn. Mitchell argued that the damages were excessive.
Were the damages awarded to Alcorn excessive?
The court found that it was customary to instruct juries that they could give vindictive damages where there were circumstances of malice, willfulness, wantonness, outrage, and indignity attending the wrong complained of. The court held that so long as damages were allowable in any civil case, by way of punishment or for the sake of example, the present, of all cases, would have seemed to be a most fit one for the award of such damages. The court found that the act in question was one of the greatest indignity, highly provocative of retaliation by force, that the law, as far as it could have, should have afforded substantial protection against such outrages, in the way of liberal damages, and that the public tranquillity could be preserved by saving the necessity of resort to personal violence as the only means of redress. The court held that Mitchel's act was one of pure malignity, done for the mere purpose of insult and indignity. The court carefully looked into the instructions given and refused and did not perceive any substantial error.
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