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Vosburg v. Putney

Citation. 50 N.W. 403 (Wisc. 1891)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The defendant lightly kicked the plaintiff in the shin while sitting in a high school classroom, causing bacteria from a previous injury to awaken and destroy the plaintiff’s bone, according to a medical expert at the time of the case. The plaintiff then lost the use of his leg.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

One who commits a wrongful act is liable for all injuries resulting directly from the wrongful act, whether those injuries could or could not have been foreseen by him.


Putney (defendant) and Vosney (plaintiff) were sitting across an aisle from each other in a high school classroom. Putney lightly kicked Vosney in the shin, and Vosney did not feel pain at first. After a few minutes, he felt extreme pain in the spot that was kicked. The next day, he was sick and had to be helped to school. By the fourth day, Vosney was vomiting, and the doctor sent some medicine. When the doctor came to visit, he saw that the knee was slightly bruised. The swelling increased over the next few days, and the doctor had to operate. He discovered that Vosney’s bone was deteriorating and determined that Vosney would never use his leg again. Another medical expert gave the theory that Vosney’s leg was already infected from a previous injury and that the light kick was the remote cause of revivifying the bacteria that caused bone destruction.


Is the defendant liable under assault and battery for the damage done to the plaintiff’s leg?


Yes. The defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s full injury. Despite this, the judgement was reversed and the case remanded for new trial due to a procedural issue that occurred in the trial.


The court recognized that the defendant did not intentionally cause grave harm to the plaintiff, but it uses the circumstances to ascribe fault to him anyway. The court says that the fact that this occurred in the classroom, rather than on the playground where rough play is to be expected, indicates that the act was unlawful as a violation of the “order and decorum” of the school. Because the act was unlawful, the court rules, so too was the intention of the defendant to commit the act. The court declined to submit questions to the jury regarding whether the defendant knew that this would be the likely result of kicking the plaintiff, as it determined that foreseeability has no bearing on a wrongdoer’s responsibility for his actions.

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