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§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.

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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