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Transferred Intent for Assault and Battery

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

The phrase 'I didn't mean to' often carries little weight in court because of the concept of transferred intent, in which an unintended victim was harmed. Learn the nuances of liability and intent in the case of Talmage v. Smith. Updated: 09/16/2021

Transferred Intent

Suppose your neighbor's dog barks all night. At wit's end, you crawl out of bed, grab a rock and throw it in the dog's direction. Fortunately, for the dog, you do not have a very good aim. You bypassed the barking pooch, but the rock hits your neighbor instead.

You might say that you did not mean to hit the neighbor and refuse to pay for his injuries. However, the law will see it differently.

By tossing the rock toward the dog, you committed trespass to chattels. This means you attempted to interfere with another person's enjoyment of their personal property, the dog.

However, by missing the dog but hitting the neighbor instead, transferred intent occurred, and the liability shifted from the trespass to chattels - attempting to strike the dog - to battery against your neighbor.

If the following occurred, transferred intent is probably present:

  • A tort would have been committed if contact with the original party occurred
  • A tort was committed to an unintended party, resulting in damages

In a legal brief of high importance, we will learn that the law does not recognize intent when ruling on cases where an innocent victim becomes the target of assault and battery.

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  • 0:02 Transferred Intent
  • 1:25 Talmage v. Smith (Mich. 1894)
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Talmage v. Smith (Mich. 1894)

Although this case took place quite a long time ago, it substantially explains the doctrine of transferred intent.

Smith owned property in Michigan. On his property were several sheds. The sheds were a temptation to the local children.

Fed up with noise coming from the kids playing on the shed roofs, Smith confronted several of them and asked that they leave his property. A few left, and a few others remained.

Not satisfied, Smith returned to the area of his property where the sheds stood. He picked up a large stick and threw it at one of the boys - the first boy he saw, to be exact. As the first boy ducked from the projectile, another boy, named Talmage, was struck in the eye. The blow blinded him permanently.

In this case, the court saw the act of throwing the stick as an act of battery. Mostly because of the force it carried. The court also looked at the two criteria. Let us review:

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