Whether a defendant may be held liable for assault and battery in the absence of a specific intent to perform an act to harm the plaintiff.
Yes. If child knew with a substantial certainty that plaintiff intended to sit down in the place from which child had moved the chair, child would be liable in tort for battery regardless of his motivation.
LexisNexis Headnote 3: Intentional Torts, Assault & Battery An act which, directly or indirectly, is the legal cause of a harmful contact with another's person makes the actor liable to the other, if the act is done with the intention of bringing about a harmful or offensive contact or an apprehension thereof to the other or a third person, the contact is not consented to by the other or the other's consent thereto is procured by fraud or duress, and the contact is not otherwise privileged.
Defendant, a child under the age of six, was visiting at plaintiff's home. Plaintiff later alleged that when came out into the backyard, she started to sit down in chair just as defendant deliberately pulled it out from under her. Defendant, however, contended that he had moved the chair before the plaintiff attempted to sit down and that he was trying to maneuver it back under her when she fell to the ground. Plaintiff sustained serious injuries, including a hip fracture. Plaintiff filed an action in the Pierce County Superior Court (Washington), asserting claims of assault and battery against defendant through his guardian ad litem. The trial court entered findings in favor of defendant, concluding that the child had been attempting to assist the plaintiff by moving the chair under the spot where she was attempting to sit, but that due to his small size and lack of dexterity, he was unable to keep her from falling to the ground .The trial court entered judgment in defendant’s favor, concluding that he did not have purpose, intent or design to perform a prank or to effect an assault and battery upon the person of the plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed.
The Washington Supreme Court found that the lower court improperly focused on the defendant’s motivation in determining intent. In its decision, the court noted that a minor could be held liable for committing the tort of battery. The court also noted that for tort liability to apply to a claim of battery, the action had to be taken with the intention of bringing about a harmful or offensive contact or an apprehension thereof. The court held, however, that liability for battery could not be established unless the defendant realized that to a substantial certainty, the contact or apprehension would result.
The mere absence of any intent to injure the plaintiff or to play a prank on her or to embarrass her, or to commit an assault and battery on her would not absolve him from liability if in fact he had such knowledge. Without such knowledge, there would be nothing wrongful about defendant's act in moving the chair, and, there being no wrongful act, there would be no liability. The Supreme Court of Washington then remanded the action to the trial court for clarification in the findings of fact. The lower court was instructed to make definite findings on the issue as to whether defendant knew with substantial certainty that plaintiff would attempt to sit down where the chair which he moved had been, and to change the judgment if the court found that he had such knowledge.