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Scofield v. Critical Air Med., Inc. - 45 Cal. App. 4th 990, 52 Cal. Rptr. 2d 915 (1996)

Rule:

Contemporaneous awareness of false imprisonment is not an essential element because harm may result even if the victim does not learn until afterward of the confinement or its wrongfulness. A victim can sustain substantial harm as a consequence of a false imprisonment, even if not immediately cognizant of being wrongfully detained.

Facts:

A father, as guardian ad litem for his two minor children, brought an action for false imprisonment against an air transport service, for damages the minors sustained during an air transport to the United States necessitated by injuries the minors suffered in a truck accident in Mexico. On the night of the accident, defendant, knowing that the father had authorized another air transport service to return the minors to the United States, intercepted and interfered with the authorized airplane's flight, landed before the authorized airplane, and flew the minors back to the United States. The minors were not told that defendant's plane was not the one authorized by their father; had they been told, they would not have boarded it. Defendant's plane bore no distinctive markings or logo, its crew's clothing bore no distinctive markings, and its pilot did not tell anyone on the ground that the plane was not from the authorized service. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the minors following a jury verdict awarding each child $60,000 in damages.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in entering judgment in favor of plaintiffs, even though the minors were not contemporaneously aware that they were being unlawfully confined?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The California Court of Appeals affirmed. The court held that the trial court did not err in entering judgment in favor of plaintiffs, even though the minors were not contemporaneously aware that they were being unlawfully confined. Since the minors' consent to their confinement on defendant's aircraft was procured through a misrepresentation by defendant as to its authority, the confinement was nonconsensual (Civ. Code, § 1567), and amounted to a false imprisonment. The court further held that the trial court did not err in deleting the elements of force or threat of force when it instructed the jury with a modified version of the standard false imprisonment instruction, which requires a false imprisonment claimant to establish that the defendant intentionally and unlawfully exercised force or the express or implied threat of force to restrain, detain, or confine the plaintiff. False imprisonment may be completed in a variety of ways, not only by force or the threat of force, but also by fraud or deceit, or any other form of unreasonable duress. In addition, the court held that the trial court properly gave the jury a generic instruction on false imprisonment; defendant did not seek a more specific instruction, and its failure to do so foreclosed the issue on appeal. Finally, the court held that the jury's damages award was not excessive.

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