Wagner v. Utah Department of Human Servs.

2005 UT 54, 122 P.3d 599 (Sup.Ct.)



The only intent required to commit a battery is the intent to make a contact, not an intent to harm, injure, or offend through that contact. So long as the actor intended the contact, it is immaterial that the actor is not inspired by any personal hostility to the other, or a desire to injure him. The actor will be liable for battery even if he honestly but erroneously believed that the other has, in fact, consented to the contact. In fact, even a healing contact motivated by a helpful intent, as in an act of medical assistance, is actionable as a battery if the actor did not in fact have permission to make the contact. The linchpin to liability for battery is not a guilty mind, but rather an intent to make a contact the law forbids. The actor need not appreciate that his contact is forbidden; he need only intend the contact, and the contact must, in fact, be forbidden.


Plaintiff injured party and her husband sued defendant government entities for injuries she suffered during an attack by a mentally disabled patient who was under defendants’ supervision. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint under Utah R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The appellate court found that the dismissal was proper. Plaintiffs sought review of the appellate court’s decision. They argued that the attack could not legally constitute a battery because that tort required the patient to intend harm or offense through his deliberate contact, an intent the patient was mentally incompetent to form. The state supreme court affirmed the appellate court's decision.


Did the attack by a mentally disabled patient, who was under defendant government entities’ supervision, constitute a battery?




Only intent to make contact was necessary, and the attack constituted a battery. The fact that plaintiff injured party and her husband alleged that the patient could not have intended to harm her or understood that his attack would inflict injury or offense was not relevant to the analysis of whether a battery occurred. So long as the patient intended to make contact and so long as that contact was one to which the injured party had not given her consent, the patient committed a battery. Finally, battery was a tort for which the state had retained immunity pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 63-30-10(2) (1997) (repealed 2004).

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