Breunig v. American Family Ins. Co. Case Brief

Summary of Breunig v. American Family Ins. Co., S. Ct. Wisconsin, 1970

Facts: Pl’s truck was struck by Df’s car. Df was driving her car in the wrong direction on the highway. Df, while returning home, saw a white light on the back of the car ahead of her. She followed the light for three or four blocks, remembering only waking in a field. Psychiatrist testimony revealed she believed God was steering the car. Df saw the PL truck comng and stepped on the gas in order to become air-borne b/c she knew she could fly b/c Batman does.

Issue: Whether, without forewarning or knowledge of disability, df is liable for negligence, when insane ?

Holding: Yes.

Procedure: Jury verdict for Pl and Df Insurance Co. appealed. Affirmed.

Rule: The effect of mental illness must be such as to affect the person’s ability to understand and appreciate the duty which rests upon him to drive his care with ordinary care, or if the insanity does not affect such understanding and appreciation, it must affect his ability to control his car in an ordinarily prudent manner. There must be an absense of notice or forewarning to the person that he may suddenly subject to such a type of insanity or mental illness.

Ct. Rationale: Sudden mental incapacity equivalent in its effect to such physical causes as a sudden heart attack, epileptic seizure, stroke, or fainting should be treated alike and not under a general rule of insanity. It is unjust to hold a man responsible for his conduct which he is incapable of avoiding and which incapability was unknown to him prior to the accident.

PL A: Insanity is not a defense in negligence actions.

Def A: Without forewarning or knowledge the df did not understand or appreciate the duty to drive the care with ordinary care.

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