Citation. White v. Muniz, 999 P.2d 814 (Colo. Apr. 17, 2000)
Brief Fact Summary.
Shortly after having taken residence at Beatrice Hover Personal Care Center, an adult assisted living facility, eighty-three year-old Helen Everly (Defendant) struck Sherry Lynn Muniz (Plaintiff), a professional caregiver at the center. Plaintiff subsequently brought suit against Barbara White, Everly’s granddaughter, and Everly (Defendants). The jury found in Defendants’ favor having concluded that Everly lacked the requisite intent to sustain a cause of action. This case is a challenge to the decision of the Court of Appeals of Colorado, which determined that a mentally incapacitated adult should be held liable for her intentional tort even if she was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A jury, as trier of fact, may conclude that a mentally deficient person is liable for tortious conduct; however, in so doing the jury must find that the actor intended offensive or harmful consequences.
Everly, an elderly woman who was placed in a personal care center, began to exhibit erratic behavior. She became easily agitated, and would occasionally act aggressively toward others. An examination by a physician revealed that Everly was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In one instance, she struck Plaintiff in the jaw. In Plaintiff’s actions for assault and battery, the trial judge instructed the jury that Everly’s suffering from Alzheimer’s did not prevent a finding that she acted intentionally, even if her reasons or motive were irrational.
At issue, is whether an intentional tort requires some proof that the tortfeasor not only intended to contact another person, but also intended that the contact be harmful or offensive to the other person.
The court reversed the judgment and remanded, having found that the jury determined that alleged tortfeasor did not intend to cause offensive or harmful consequences by her act.
Intentional torts may be committed in one of two ways: 1) when the defendant intends to cause the harm resulting from his or her actions; and 2) when the defendant has substantial certainty that harm will result.
* Mental illness is not a defense to an intentional tort, however it may, like other mental states (such as infancy), be viewed as one factor in the totality of circumstances upon which a jury relies to make its determination. With respect to battery, an actor is generally subject to liability when he or she acts intending to cause harmful or offensive contact to another, or place the other in apprehension of such contact. Further, such harmful or offensive contact must result. However, the actor does not have to intend the harm that actually results. If, for example, a blow to the victim was intended to simply bruise the victim but serious trauma resulted, the actor would be held liable for any resulting injuries.