Torts I

Breunig v. American Family Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Wisconsin, 1970

Facts:

Veith was driving down the road when an acute schizophrenic reaction manifested and caused her to drive into plaintiff's truck in the oncoming lane, believing she could fly like Batman. Expert testimony says that she had no conscious operation of the vehicle and no forewarning that such an episode would occur. Plaintiff then sued defendant's insurance company under a Wisconsin statute.

Procedural History:

Jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff.

Issue:

Is one liable for resulting from unforeseeable mental illness?

Rule:

Page 177

The policy basis of holding a permanently insane person liable for his tort is:

  1. Where one of two innocent persons must suffer a loss it should be borne by the one who occasioned it;
  2. to induce those interested in the estate of the insane person (if he has one) to restrain and control him; and
  3. the fear an insanity defense would lead to false claims of insanity to avoid liability.

Reasoning:

If Veith was not known or foreseen to have had this caliber of mental illness beforehand, she should not be liable for the sudden acts which were beyond her control, as she could not have reasonably prevented it.

Holding:

No, one is not liable for torts resulting from sudden mental illness. Judgment affirmed.

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