Brian Dailey (“Defendant”), a five-year-old, pulled a chair out from under Ruth Garratt (“Plaintiff”) just as she was sitting down on it. Plaintiff fell and fractured her hep. She sued Defendant for battery, an intentional tort.
According to Plaintiff, Defendant deliberately pulled the chair out from under her. According to Defendant, on the other hand, he moved the chair to sit in it himself before he discovered that Plaintiff was about to sit at the place where it had been. When he saw her about to sit, he unsuccessfully attempted to replace the chair. Defendant denied any intent to injure or embarrass Plaintiff.
Sitting as the trier of fact, the trial court adopted Defendant’s version of the events and specifically found that he lacked an intent to play a prank on Plaintiff or to harm her.
The Supreme Court of Washington remanded for clarification, with instructions on the issue of intent.
The Court explained:
We have here the conceded volitional act of Brian, i.e., the moving of a chair. Had the plaintiff proved to the satisfaction of the trial court that Brian moved the chair while she was in the act of sitting down, Brian’s action would patently have been for the purpose or with the intent of causing the plaintiff’s bodily contact with the ground, and she would be entitled to a judgment against him for the resulting damages.
In other words, the necessary intent for the tort of battery is that Defendant fall to the ground (the consequence). It is not necessary that Defendant understood, desired, or foresaw that Plaintiff would likely be humiliated and physically injured in the fall.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled that the trial court as trier of fact reasonably could infer that an actor who moves a chair, knowing another person is about to sit on it, also knows with substantial certainty that tortious consequences will ensue (here a battery — harmful or offensive contact with the ground) and thus will be held to have intended those consequences.