Williams v. Hays

143 N.Y. 442, 38 N.E. 449 (1894)



An insane person is just as responsible for his torts as a sane person, and the rule applies to all torts, except perhaps those in which malice and, therefore, intention, actual or imputed, is a necessary ingredient, like libel, slander, and malicious prosecution. In all other torts intention is not an ingredient, and the actor is responsible, although he acted with a good and even laudable purpose, without any malice.


Defendant shipmaster and plaintiff shipowners were joint owners of a brig. By an arrangement between the three men, the defendant was to bring the ship on a voyage and to man the vessel. Defendant was to have absolute control over the vessel and became her owner pro hac vice. While out at sea, defendant encountered a storm. After two days of manning the ship, defendant took a large dose of quinine, gave a shipmate the duty of manning the brig, and went to sleep. The mate later woke the defendant when the storm grew worse, and the latter refused any help from other tugs. The ship wrecked, and the plaintiff brought an action against defendant shipmaster for negligence. Defendant alleged that he was temporarily insane from lack of sleep. The lower court held in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the judgment of the lower court was reversed.


Is defendant liable for the damage to the brig despite his claim of temporary insanity?




The court held that the shipmaster's claimed insanity was no excuse for his neglect of the brig. In respect to this liability there is no distinction between torts of non-feasance and of misfeasance, and so an insane person is liable for injuries caused by his tortious negligence, and so far as this liability is concerned, is held to the same degree of care and diligence as a person of sound mind.

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.