Wilkinson v. Downton – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Wilkinson v. Downton, 2 Q.B. 57 (1897).

Facts

As a practical joke, Downton (D) told Wilkinson (P) that her husband had been seriously injured in an accident and was lying in a ditch with broken bones. Downton told Wilkinson that she was to bring two pillows to help carry him home. The effect of Downton’s statement was a violent shock to her nervous system resulting in weeks of suffering and incapacity. Wilkinson brought suit for damages resulting from her injuries and the jury returned a verdict in her favor. The defendant appealed on the grounds that the damage caused was merely nervous shock and therefore Wilkinson had no cause of action.

Issue

Can outrageous conduct that causes physical harm or mental distress give rise to a cause of action?

Holding and Rule

Yes. A party may seek recovery for outrageous conduct that causes physical harm or mental distress. In this case Downton willfully performed the act which caused harm to the plaintiff. The court held that there was little doubt that Downton’s actions would harm Wilkinson and it therefore must be assumed that he intended to produce these effects.

Disposition

Judgment for Wilkinson affirmed.

See Sullivan v. O’Connor for a contract law case brief in which the court held that a party may recover compensatory damages for mental distress in a claim for breach of contract.


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