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Wagner v. State

Citation. 2005 UT 54, 122 P.3d 599
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Brief Fact Summary.

A mentally disabled patient did commit a battery since he intended to make contact, even if that contact was not intended to be harmful or offensive.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

In a “single” intent jurisdiction, intent to make contact is sufficient to constitute a battery, regardless if the tortfeasor intended for that contact be harmful or offensive.


Mr. Giese was a mentally handicapped man. As part of his treatment program, state employees accompanied him to a K-Mart. While at the K-Mart, Mr. Giese grabbed Mrs. Wagner’s head and threw her to the ground. Mrs. Wagner and her husband filed a negligence claim against the state employees who supervised Mr. Giese’s trip to the K-Mart. The State filed a motion to dismiss Mrs. Wagner’s claim. Arguing that Mr. Giese’s actions constituted a battery, the State maintained it was absolved of responsibility because it had immunity from such tort claims.


Whether a claim for battery requires the tortfeasor to intend harm or offense through his or her deliberate contact?


No, the intent to make contact is sufficient to constitute a battery. Because the State cannot be found liable under the retained immunity doctrine, however, the motion to dismiss is affirmed.


In order for an action to constitute a battery, there are two elements that must be satisfied. First, the contact must have been deliberate. Second, the contact must have been harmful or offensive. Despite Mr. Giese’s disability, his actions were not the result of an involuntary muscular movement. An act, as defined by the Restatement (Second) of Torts is an “external manifestation of the actor’s will.” Mr. Giese affirmatively attacked Mrs. Wagner. Therefore, the first element is satisfied. While the contact must be harmful or offense, the tortfeasor “need not intend harm so long as he intended contact.” Because Mrs. Wagner did not consent to Mr. Giese’s contact, a harmful or offensive contact resulted. The second element is thus satisfied as well. Since Utah is a “single” intent jurisdiction, a battery to Mrs. Wagner did in fact occur. However, the State is absolved of responsibility under the retained immunity doctrine. Although Mr. Giese committed a tort under the State’s supervision, the doctrine prevents his caretakers from being found liable for his actions.

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