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Picard v. Barry Pontiac-Buick, Inc.

Citation. 654 A.2d 690 (R.I. 1995)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Picard did not believe dealer Barry representatives that her mother’s car needed new brakes, so she and Barry representatives went to a repair shop to reinspect the brakes. When Picard took a picture of a Barry representative inspecting the car, the representative allegedly lunged at Picard, causing allegedly permanent back damage to Picard. The Barry representative alleged that he merely pointed a finger at her and touched the lens of her camera.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

An assault is a physical act of a threatening nature that puts an individual in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm, regardless of if actual injury occurs.

A battery is an act intended to cause and did in fact cause an offensive contact with or nonconsensual contact with another, generally resulting in the consummation of an assault.


Barry told Picard that the brakes on her mom’s car needed to be replaced. Picard took the car to a repair shop, where it passed inspection. Upset at Barry, Picard contacted a local news reporter. Barry called the repair shop and asked them to pull the inspection sticker because the car had bad brakes. Barry representatives and Picard went to the repair shop to reinspect the brakes.

Picard took pictures of a Barry representative inspecting the car. Picard alleges that a Barry representative lunged at her and spun her around, while the Barry representative alleges that he merely pointed at Picard and touched the lens of the camera while asking why she was taking his photograph.

Picard claimed permanent damage to her back due to the altercation.


  1. Did the Barry representative commit an assault and/or battery on Picard?
  2. Were the compensatory and/or punitive damages awarded to Picard excessive?


Affirmed with regard to Issue #1 (presence of an assault and battery), but vacated with regard to Issue #2 (excessive nature of damages). Remanded for a new trial on damages sustained by Picard.

  1. Yes, the Barry representative committed both an assault and a battery on Picard.
  2. Yes, both the compensatory and punitive damages awarded to Picard were excessive.


Assault: Picard testified that she was frightened by the Barry representative’s actions, and this fear was reasonable given the representative’s pointing his finger at Picard was documented by her camera.

Battery: Barry has failed to prove that the representative’s pointing his finger onto Picard’s camera was accidental or involuntary. Impermissible and intentional contact with anything connected to an individual’s body, like a camera, is customarily regarded as part of the person and therefore the action was enough to constitute a battery. Note: Intent to injure a plaintiff is unnecessary where the defendant willfully sets a force into motion that would cause injury in the ordinary course.

However, Picard’s medical evidence was inadequate, so the amount of damages were excessive. Punitive damages were likewise inappropriate because there was no proof of malice or bad faith.

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