Edwina, whose eyesight is failing, was busily trimming her rose bushes which border the public sidewalk along the side of her house when Willy, who was out on his daily jog, waved to Edwina as he took an unplanned shortcut through her backyard. Edwina, who couldn’t tell who Willy was, waved back in protest and ran towards Willy with her pruning shears in hand.
Willy’s friend, Ralph, who was walking nearby, noticed the developing events. Concerned for Willy’s safety, Ralph rushed up to Edwina from behind, pushed her to the ground and took away her pruning shears. Ralph then tossed the shears in a rosebush and ran towards Willy.
Just at that moment, Lenny, who dislikes Willy, walked around the corner and saw Willy running through Edwina’s backyard. Lenny threw a rock at Willy and in the process stumbled and fell. The rock missed Willy and hit Ralph instead.
After regaining her feet, Edwina picked up her shears, scratching herself in the process, and walked over to Lenny who lay splayed on his back on the sidewalk. Mistaking him for Ralph, Edwina stood over Lenny, pinning him in place. Snapping her razor-sharp shears menacingly close to Lenny’s belt buckle, Edwina angrily snarled: “Go ahead, make my day.” Thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated, and fearing for his personal safety, Lenny cowered before Edwina and the gathering crowd of curious neighbors and passers-by.
Unaware of any of these events, Willy ran on.
Edwina can bring a claim against Ralph for battery because Ralph pushed her to the ground. Battery is the intentional infliction of harmful or offensive contact. Edwina must establish the following elements: (1) intent; (2) contact; (3) causation; and (4) harmful or offensive contact. First, intent can be established by proving the defendant acted either with purpose or knowledge that his/her actions were substantially certain to result in contact. Ralph clearly intended to make contact with Edwina as he rushed her from behind and pushed her to the ground. Second, there is no dispute that he made contact. Third, to establish causation, the plaintiff must show the D’s act are both the cause-in-fact and proximate cause of the harm. Ralph’s actions are the but-for cause, or cause in fact. That is, but for Ralph’s push (contact), Edwina would not have fallen down. His actions are also the proximate cause, as the harm that occurred – falling down – is the type of harm that could reasonably result from the tortious act – the push. Finally, while the facts do not make clear whether Edwina suffered physical harm, any reasonable person would find that being pushed to the ground is at least offensive. Thus, Edwina can establish a prima facie case of battery.
Next, we must determine whether Ralph can avail himself of any defenses or privileges. The only possible option is defense of others. To succeed in arguing that his actions are privileged based on defense of others, a defendant must establish that he reasonably believed that force was necessary to protect others against battery and that the amount of force used was reasonable under the circumstances. Here, Ralph thought Edwina was charging Willy with pruning shears. She was working in the garden, so holding pruning shears does not necessarily suggest she’s threatening to stab someone. It might depend on whether she was holding them in a threatening manner and how close she was to Willy. While this might be a close call, I don’t think it was reasonable for Ralph to assume that someone pruning rose bushes would rush to stab another person who trespasses.
Therefore, I think the defense will fail, and the claim of battery will be successful.