Vosburg v. Putney – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Vosburg v. Putney, 80 Wis. 523, 50 N.W. 403 (Wisc. 1891).

Facts

Vosburg (P) suffered an injury to his leg just below the knee. A few days later while the injury was still healing, a classmate named Putney (D) kicked him lightly in the same spot. Vosburg did not feel the kick immediately. He later felt pain in the leg and underwent surgery when the injury continued to deteriorate.

Vosburg lost the use of the injured leg and brought tort claims against Putney for common law battery. The trial court entered judgment for Vosburg and awarded him $2800. On appeal the court reversed for error and a new trial was ordered. Judgment was entered for Vosburg for $2500 and Putney appealed.

Issue

  • Is a defendant in an action for battery liable for damages arising from unforeseen injuries?

Holding and Rule

  • Yes. A defendant in an action for battery is liable for damages arising from unforeseen injuries.

The intention to do harm is the essence of the wrongful act. The wrongdoer is liable for all injuries resulting directly from the wrongful act whether or not they were foreseeable. Vosburg must show either that the intention was unlawful or that Putney is at fault. If the act is unlawful, the intention is unlawful. The court ruled that in this case the act was unlawful since it took place during class rather than on the playground and Putney was liable for all personal injuries sustained as a consequence of his wrongful act.

Disposition

Reversed and remanded for new trial due to an error in testimony.

Notes

This case exemplifies the common law “eggshell skull” rule. A defendant takes a plaintiff as he finds him. It is not relevant whether the defendant knew that the plaintiff had an eggshell skull. See Sibbach v. Wilson & Co. for a case brief of an opinion of the United States Supreme Court involving tort claims for personal injuries. This case is occasionally miscited as Vosberg v. Putney.


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