Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Polmatier v. Russ case brief

Polmatier v. Russ
537 A.2d 468
Tort Law


 -Action to recover damages for the wrongful death of the plaintiff's decedent.
-November 20, 1976, the D and his two month old daughter visited the home of Arthur Polmatier, his father-in-law.
-Polmatier lived in East Windsor with his wife, Dorothy, (P), and their eleven year old son, Robert. -Early that morning, Robert noticed a disturbance in the living room where he saw the D next to Polmatier on a couch beating him on the head with a beer bottle.
- Robert heard Polmatier exclaim, "Norm, you're killing me!" and ran to get help.
-D went into Polmatier's bedroom where he took a box of 30-30 caliber ammunition from the bottom drawer of a dresser and went to his brother-in-law's  bedroom where he took a rifle from the closet. -He then returned to the living room and shot Polmatier twice, causing his death.
-Five hours later, the defendant was found sitting on a stump in a wooded area approximately 1/2 mile from the Polmatier home.
-D was naked and his daughter was in his arms wrapped in his clothes, and was crying.
-Blood was found on his clothes, and he had with him the rifle, which was determined to be the murder weapon.

Defendant tortfeasor appealed a decision of the Superior Court in the Judicial District of Windham (Connecticut), which rendered judgment for plaintiff executrix in her action against to recover damages for the wrongful death of her husband. The tortfeasor was charged with the decedent's murder pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-54a(a), but was found not guilty by reason of insanity pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-13.

-The tortfeasor claimed that the trial court should have applied a two-pronged analysis by considering whether he intended the act which produced the injury and whether he intended the resulting injury. On appeal, the court found no error. Initially, the court adopted the majority rule in holding that insane persons were civilly liable for their torts.
-As to the proposed analysis, the tortfeasor argued that his acts were external manifestations of irrational thought disorders, rather than acts accompanied by the requisite intent.
-An insane person could have an intent to harm another, even though his reasons and motives for forming that intention were irrational.
-Additionally, given the tortfeasor's statements about the homicide, the trial court implicitly found that the tortfeasor committed an "act" for liability purposes.
-Further, the trial court did not err in failing to find that the tortfeasor intended that the death would result from that act, because intent was not an essential element of a wrongful death cause of action, and the tortfeasor's statements to the police supported a finding that he intended to beat and shoot the decedent.


-Insane persons are commonly held liable for their intentional torts. While there are very few cases, the same rule has been applied to their negligence. As to mental deficiency falling short of insanity, as in the case of stupidity, lack of intelligence, excitability, or proneness to accident, no allowance is made, and the actor is held to the standard of conduct of a reasonable man who is not mentally deficient, even though it is in fact beyond his capacity to conform to it.
-In the context of civil liability for an intentional tort, unless an actor is a child, his insanity or other mental deficiency does not relieve the actor from liability for conduct which does not conform to the standard of a reasonable man under like circumstances. This majority rule has been applied to cases involving intentional homicide.
-"act" is used to denote an external manifestation of the actor's will and does not include any of its results, even the most direct, immediate, and intended. A muscular reaction is always an act unless it is a purely reflexive reaction in which the mind and will have no share. An insane person may have an intent to invade the interests of another, even though his reasons and motives for forming that intention may be entirely irrational.
-"Intent" is used to denote that the actor desires to cause consequences of his act, or that he believes that the consequences are substantially certain to result from it. All consequences which the actor desires to bring about are intended. Intent is not, however, limited to consequences which are desired. If the actor knows that the consequences are certain, or substantially certain, to result from his act, and still goes ahead, he is treated by the law as if he had in fact desired to produce the result. It is not essential that the precise injury which was done be the one intended.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the executrix on her wrongful death claim against the tortfeasor.

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