ProfessorMelissa A. Hale
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. At a professional conference held in Defendant’s hotel, one of Defendant’s employees seized a plate from the Plaintiff’s hand, shouting that a “Negro could not be served in the club”. Defendant’s employee did not make physical contact with Plaintiff, but the event was witnessed by many of Plaintiff’s colleagues. Plaintiff sought actual and punitive damages for assault and battery.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A Plaintiff may recover for battery even when not physically touched so long as the Defendant committed an unwanted an intentional invasion of the inviolability of the Plaintiff’s person.
Punitive damages can properly be awarded against a master or other principal because of an act by an agent if, but only if, (a) the principal authorized the doing and the manner of the act, or (b) the agent was unfit and the principal was reckless in employing him, or (c) the agent was employed in a managerial capacity and was acting in the scope of employment, or (d) the employer or a manager of the employer ratified or approved the act.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Did the trial court correctly set aside the jury’s verdict because no actual physical contact was made with the Plaintiff?
* May actual damages stemming from mental suffering be awarded when no physical contact occurred?
Held. The trial court’s decision was reversed and the verdict reinstated.
* Unwanted and intentional invasion of one’s person through dispossession of an object is battery even in the absence of physical contact.
* Actual damages for mental suffering stemming from battery may be awarded even when no physical contact is made.
Discussion. The Court distills battery as a tort concerned primarily with personal dignity, not merely personal space. However, the Court repeatedly refers to offenses to “the person”, implying that some nexus with physical contact must be present in cases of battery. The Court suggests that any objects grasped by a person are considered part of “the person” for the purposes of battery. Other courts have sometimes referred to such objects as “appurtenances”.