Garratt v. Dailey

46 Wash. 2d 197, 279 P.2d 1091 (1955)

Quick Summary

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Ruth Garratt (plaintiff) fell and was injured after Brian Dailey (defendant), a five-year-old boy, moved a lawn chair she was about to sit on. The trial court dismissed her battery claim, finding no intent to harm. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Washington needed clarification on whether Brian knew with substantial certainty that his actions would result in Ruth’s fall.

The court remanded the case for further findings regarding Brian’s knowledge at the time of the incident. The outcome would determine if a wrongful act and thus battery occurred, despite the absence of intent to harm.

Facts of the Case

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Ruth Garratt (plaintiff) suffered a broken hip when she fell after attempting to sit in a lawn chair that was moved by Brian Dailey (defendant), a five-year-old boy. The incident occurred while Brian was visiting Ruth’s sister, Naomi Garratt, at Ruth’s home.

The plaintiff alleged that Brian deliberately pulled the chair out from under her as she went to sit, while Brian contended he moved the chair to sit in it himself and failed to replace it in time to prevent Ruth’s fall.

The trial court found in favor of Brian, concluding he had no intent to harm Ruth. The court did acknowledge Ruth’s injuries and calculated her damages at $11,000, pending the outcome of an appeal.

Ruth Garratt appealed the decision, seeking either a judgment in her favor or a new trial.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Ruth Garratt sued Brian Dailey for battery in connection with her fall and injury.
  2. The trial court dismissed the action against Brian Dailey, finding no willful or unlawful intent on his part.
  3. Ruth Garratt appealed to the Supreme Court of Washington.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether moving a chair, resulting in another person’s fall and injury, constitutes battery when there is no intent to harm.

Rule of Law

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To establish battery, there must be an intentional infliction of harmful bodily contact upon another. For an act to be considered intentional, it must be done with the purpose of causing contact or with knowledge that such contact is substantially certain to occur.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The court examined whether Brian Dailey had committed a wrongful act by moving the chair and concluded that the act itself was not wrongful absent an intent or knowledge that harm was substantially certain to result.

The court emphasized that even though Brian had no intent to injure Ruth Garratt or play a prank, he could still be liable if he knew with substantial certainty that she would attempt to sit where the chair had been.

However, since the trial court did not specifically find whether Brian had this knowledge, the Supreme Court remanded the case for further clarification on this point. The court also discussed how Brian’s age could affect his understanding and knowledge of the consequences of his actions but maintained that liability in battery is not dependent on age.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court of Washington remanded the case for clarification on whether Brian Dailey knew with substantial certainty that Ruth Garratt would attempt to sit down where the chair had been when he moved it.

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. Battery requires intentional infliction of harmful bodily contact or knowledge that such contact is substantially certain.
  2. A minor’s liability for tort does not depend on their age but on their capacity to understand their actions.
  3. The case was remanded due to insufficient findings on whether Brian knew his actions would cause Ruth Garratt to fall.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes intent in the context of tort law?

Intent is established when the actor desires to cause the consequences of their action or believes the consequences are substantially certain to result. In tort law, intent does not require a harmful motive; rather, it requires understanding and wilfulness in the execution of the act.

  • For example: If an individual throws a ball knowing someone is in its direct path, they may have intent for purposes of battery if contact is likely, even if they didn’t wish harm on that person.

How does the age of a defendant affect their liability for intentional torts?

Even though minors can be held liable for intentional torts, courts will consider their age, experience, and understanding when determining if they had the requisite level of intent or knowledge concerning their actions.

  • For example: A teenager who crashes into a mailbox while learning to drive may be liable for property damage, but their liability could be assessed differently than an adult’s due to their lack of experience.

Can a person be held liable for battery if there was no intent to cause harm but actions were taken knowing harm was substantially certain?

Liability for battery can arise even without malicious intent if the person acts with knowledge that harm is substantially certain to be caused by their actions. This principle aligns with the idea that individuals are responsible for the natural and probable consequences of their actions.

  • For example: A homeowner sets a spring gun trap in their shed to deter theft, expecting no visitors; if someone is injured by it, the homeowner could be liable for battery because harm was substantially certain.


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