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McGuire v. Almy

    Citation. McGuire v. Almy, 297 Mass. 323, 8 N.E.2d 760, 1937 Mass. LEXIS 767 (Mass. 1937).

    Brief Fact Summary. Mcquire (Plaintiff), a registered nurse, was hired to care for Almy (Defendant), an insane person. During a violent attack, Defendant stuck Plaintiff with the leg of a low-boy (a piece of furniture). Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant for assault and battery.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An insane person is liable for his intentional torts.


    Facts. Plaintiff was a registered nurse. Defendant was an insane person. Before Plaintiff was hired to care for Defendant, she learned that Defendant had a mental disorder, but was in good physical health. During the period of fourteen months, while Plaintiff cared for Defendant, Defendant had a few odd spells when she showed hostility towards Plaintiff. Defendant, while locked in her room, had a violent attack during which she broke furniture and warned Plaintiff not to enter Defendant’s room or she would be killed. Plaintiff decided that it would be better to remove the broken items before Defendant did any more harm to herself. Plaintiff approached Defendant, who was positioned with the leg of a low-boy raised above her head, ready to strike. Plaintiff tried to grab Defendant’s hand and Defendant struck Plaintiff, causing injuries for which the action was brought. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Is Defendant, an insane person, liable for assault and battery?

    Held. Yes. Judgment for Plaintiff on the verdict.
    * Courts almost invariably hold an insane person liable for his torts. Where an insane person by his act does intentional damage to the person or property of another he is liable for that damage in the same circumstance in which a normal person would be liable.
    * The law will not inquire further into an insane person’s peculiar mental condition with a view to excusing him if it should appear that delusion or other consequence of his affliction has caused him to entertain that intent or that a normal person would not have entertained it. In this case, the jury could have found that Defendant was capable of entertaining, and that she did entertain, an intent to strike and to injure Plaintiff and that Defendant acted upon that intent.

    Discussion. An insane person will be liable for his or her torts. Previous rulings involving insanity have prevented liability for certain intentional torts such as defamation and deceit largely because they require a malicious intent. In those cases, the law holds that such intent must be shown.

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