Law School Case Brief
Spivey v. Battaglia - 258 So. 2d 815 (Fla. 1972)
The intent with which such a tort liability as assault is concerned is not necessarily a hostile intent, or a desire to do harm. Where a reasonable man would believe that a particular result was substantially certain to follow, he will be held in the eyes of the law as though he had intended it. It would thus be an assault (intentional). However, the knowledge and appreciation of a risk, short of substantial certainty, is not the equivalent of intent.
Negligence is a relative term and its existence must depend in each case upon the particular circumstances which surrounded the parties at the time and place of the events upon which the controversy is based.
Petitioner and respondent (Mr. Battaglia) were employees of Battaglia Fruit Co. During their lunch hour, several employees of Battaglia Fruit Co., including petitioner and respondent, were seated on a work table in the plant of the company. In an effort to tease petitioner, whom respondent knew to be shy, intentionally put his arm around petitioner and pulled her head toward him. Immediately after this "friendly unsolicited hug," petitioner suffered a sharp pain in the back of her neck and ear, and sharp pains into the base of her skull. As a result, petitioner was paralyzed on the left side of her face and mouth. An action was commenced in the trial court wherein the petitioners, Mr. and Mrs. Spivey, brought suit against respondent for negligence, and assault and battery. Respondent filed his answer raising as a defense the claim that his "friendly unsolicited hug" was an assault and battery as a matter of law and was barred by the running of the two-year statute of limitations on assault and battery. Respondent's motion for summary judgment was granted by the trial court on this basis. The trial court granted respondent summary judgment holding respondent's acts were assault and battery and thus were barred by the statute of limitations. After appellate court affirmed, petitioner sought review.
Did respondent's conduct amount to an assault and battery, resulting in barring the suit under the two-year statute of limitations?
The Supreme Court of Florida reversed and remanded the case to trial because whether respondent's actions were negligence or an assault and battery was a question for the jury. The court found it could not be said that a reasonable man in respondent's position would believe the bizarre results were substantially certain to follow, thus he would not have the equivalent of intent for assault and battery. The court held that it was necessary for the cause to be submitted to the jury, with appropriate instructions regarding the elements of negligence, and for the jury to determine whether respondent's unsolicited hug constituted negligence or assault and battery.
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