§60.1 Effect of Mental Disorder
The Case: Sweeney v. Carter , 137 S.W.2d 892 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1939).
The Basic Facts: Female plaintiff sued female defendant foralienation of affections and criminal conversation. Defendant was adjudged to be of unsound mind while the tort action was pending.
The Bottom Line:
- "The main insistence under the first assignment of error is that Mrs. Sweeney was insane during the period of her association with Carter and that her insanity is a defense to this suit." 137 S.W.2d at 895.
- "An insane person is liable in tort for compensatory damages, where express malice or evil intent is not a necessary element of the tort. Ward v. Conatser, 4 Baxt. 64, 63 Tenn. 64; 14 R.C.L. 596, 597; 13 C.J. 749, 750; [Cooley on Torts (4th Ed.) Vol. 1, sec. 65]; Annotation, 51 A.L.R. 833; compare [Francis H. Bohlen, Liability in Tort of Infants and Insane Persons, 25 Mich. Law Rev. 9, reprinted in Studies in the Law of Torts, 543-576]; [Mr. Justice Holmes, The Common Law, 109]. It has been held that insanity is a defense to an action for slander ( Bryant v. Jackson, 6 Humph. 199, 25 Tenn. 199), libel or malicious prosecution ([Cooley on Torts (4th Ed.)], Vol. 1, p. 192; 14 R.C.L. 597), but not to an action for alienation of a wife's affections by adultery. Shedrick v. Lathrop, [172 A. 630]." Id.
- "Where malice or evil intent is a necessary ingredient of the tort, it would seem that the test of civil liability should be the same as that of criminal responsibility which is whether the defendant had capacity and reason sufficient to enable him to distinguish between right and wrong as to the particular act he was then doing - a knowledge and consciousness that the act he was then doing was wrong and criminal, and would subject him to punishment. Bond v. State, [165 S.W. 229]; Watson v. State, [180 S.W. 168, 172]; McElroy v. State, [242 S.W. 883, 885]." Id.
- "So we think the issue of whether she was insane to the degree which would preclude culpability on her part was properly submitted to the jury, and that there is evidence to support the verdict. Shedrick v. Lathrop, [ 172 A. 630]." Id. at 896.