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Law School Case Brief

Van Eaton v. Thon - 764 S.W.2d 674 (Mo. Ct. App. 1988)

Rule:

An amount of punitive damages must bear a reasonable relationship to an injury inflicted and should punish an individual for outrageous conduct and deter similar conduct in the future.

Facts:

Respondent and a friend were riding horses on the right-of-way in front of the tortfeasor's property when the tortfeasor began shouting at them and punched respondent's horse with his fist causing the horse to go out of control. Respondent admitted that she was not hit by the tortfeasor. Respondent brought suit against the tortfeasor claiming assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The circuit court ruled in favor of the respondent. The tortfeasor sought review.

Issue:

Does an assault action require proof of damages?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the award of damages on the assault and battery claim, but reversed the judgment on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The court held that the proof of damages was not an element of damages in an assault action, and respondent was entitled to at least nominal damages even though she did not receive actual injuries. As to the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the court noted that there must be proof by expert medical testimony that the emotional distress or mental injury was medically diagnosed and of sufficient severity as to be medically significant.

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