In the absence of statutes that clearly delineate acceptable from unacceptable behavior – that’s the realm of criminal law, and still plenty complicated – tort law often requires a court to draw boundaries on the fly as individual cases come up. Here we look at a cluster of problems arising generally from situations in which society might say the wrongness of an act may be minimal or entirely lacking – yet a victim steps forward to earnestly claim that his or her wishes about bodily integrity have been disrespected.
The rough and tumble of daily life – “the implied license of the playground” – allows some license for those who offend with physical contact, including against the especially sensitive. When does that license end, particularly if a plaintiff’s special sensitivities are known to a defendant? Are there any larger principles at work to help us resolve conflicts in this zone, or that at least capture the instincts that might find themselves in opposition?
Should findings of offensive-contact-battery be based on a plaintiff’s level of sensitivity, or a more general standard?
Notes: Plaintiff opened the door to an office in which defendant and plaintiff’s employer were having a private conversation. Defendant closed the door, pushing the plaintiff back out. No physical injuries were alleged by the plaintiff. The plaintiff claimed that as a born-again Christian, he was especially sensitive to “evil spirits” and “the demonic”; therefore, defendant's actions greatly offended him.
Should we expect actors to respect the inner wishes of others, even when those desires contradict—or at least fail to be reflected in—external behavior?
Notes: Plaintiff stood in a vaccination line on a ship. When plaintiff reached the ship’s surgeon, she claimed to have been vaccinated before. However, because no vaccination mark was visible, the surgeon insisted that she be vaccinated again. Plaintiff voluntarily raised her arm to be vaccinated and took a ticket which certified her vaccination and avoid quarantine upon leaving the ship. Nevertheless, the plaintiff’s suit alleged that she did not consent to the vaccination.
Should we hold people accountable for causing severe distress in others, even if no physical contact—or the threat thereof—was involved?
Notes: The defendant deceitfully took plaintiff's photograph under the guise of conducting an interview with the plaintiff. The photograph was obtained on behalf of defendant's employer—an attorney—who then used the photograph as part of a client's defense in a sexual molestation case. Because the defense tactic implied the plaintiff was the actual molester, plaintiff was dragged into the client's ongoing trial despite lacking any real connection to the case. Plaintiff alleged extreme anxiety, loss of sleep, shock, and depression due to his unwarranted involvement in the case.
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