Good Grief! Should Charlie Brown Get Relief?

October 29, 2020

The Four Elements of a Negligence Claim

The leaves are falling and October is almost behind us which means Halloween is right around the corner. Pumpkins are on display and Halloween costumes are ready to go. It’s also the time of the year for one of my favorite movies, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Generations have enjoyed the classic Charles Schulz cartoon, but this one, in particular, has always brought a smile to my face.

It’s the Great Pumpkin features Linus as he awaits the much-anticipated Great Pumpkin. The rest of the Peanuts gang is shown enjoying other fall and Halloween activities like raking leaves, carving pumpkins, and attending Halloween parties while Linus focuses on his reason for the season, the Great Pumpkin.

One scene, in particular, Lucy asks Charlie Brown if he wants to practice some football. Charlie is wise to Lucy’s hijinks as he has been the victim of this particular stunt several times. Charlie tells Lucy that he is not going to play with her because she will just pull the football away leading him to fall and injure himself. Lucy denies his accusation and shows him a signed document indicating that she will not pull the football away.

Charlie grabs the document and is joyfully satisfied with its conditions. Charlie runs full speed towards the football to kick it only to have Lucy pull the football away from him. Charlie immediately takes a hard fall on his back. After his fall, Lucy laughs and tells him the document was not enforceable because it had not been notarized.

Would Lucy be liable for Charlie’s injuries under intentional torts?

Charlie’s fall easily could have caused a broken arm, a broken leg, a back injury, or even a concussion. Being that it is a cartoon Charlie suffers no personal injury other than a bruised ego. However, if he had sustained injury, he could sue Lucy for his injuries.

When Lucy pulled up the football thereby causing Charlie to fall she intentionally caused injury upon him. Charlie would have a case against Lucy under the intentional tort of battery. Different from the criminal statute, civil law requires the plaintiff to prove three elements of Battery:

  • Intent (requires only the intent to commit the act)
  • Contact (non-consensual touching)
  • Harm (an injury physical, mental, or emotional)

Lucy did not bobble the ball or take a misstep; it was clear that Lucy intended to pull up the football and commit the tortious act. Therefore, Charlie can easily demonstrate intent. While Lucy never had direct contact with Charlie, she did not pull on his leg or arm forcing him to fall, it is clear that her action of pulling up the football would result in harm to Charlie Brown. This indirect contact or “trap” she set for him has been deemed to satisfy the contact element.

Finally, Charlie Brown would have to prove harm. If he had physical injuries from the fall, this element would be easy to prove and the value of Charlie’s case would hinge on the extent of his injuries. However, harm can also be a mental or emotional injury. Charlie Brown’s embarrassment from the incident alone may be compensable.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim

In addition to a claim for Battery, Charlie could also make a claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. To prove a claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, a plaintiff must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant acts
  • The defendants conduct is outrageous
  • The defendant acts for the purpose of causing the victim emotional distress so severe that it could be expected to adversely affect mental health
  • The defendants conduct causes such distress

Element one of intentional infliction of emotional distress is easily proven as Lucy clearly committed an act when she moved the football. Charlie could also prove element two, as Lucy’s conduct was outrageous and sure to make him fall.

At the very least, Lucy’s action was meant to embarrass Charlie as she knew he would fall, thereby causing him emotional distress. The hardest element for Charlie to prove would be proving that Lucy’s conduct caused such distress. Charlie could employ the use of mental health professional experts to strengthen his case and demonstrate this element.

Would Lucy be liable to Charlie under the theory of negligence?

If Charlie was struggling to prove that Lucy’s conduct was intentionally tortious, he could always plead in the alternative (in his Complaint, Charlie could offer different theories of liability) and argue at the very least that Lucy’s conduct was negligent.

To show Negligence the Charlie would have to prove the following four elements:

  • Duty
  • Breach
  • Causation
  • Damages

It would be quite easy for Charlie Brown to prove negligence. It was clear that Lucy had a duty to leave the football for Charlie so that he would be able to kick it. The pair had agreed upon this and the duty existed absent a contract. The contract that Lucy created, whether it was enforceable or not, only memorialized that duty. Lucy clearly breached that duty when she removed the football. Lucy’s action of removing the football was the direct cause of Charlie Brown’s fall.

To be successful in a negligence claim, Charlie Brown would have to demonstrate damages or in other words some type of injury from the fall. This could be a physical, mental, or emotional injury.

It is clear that Charlie could satisfy all four elements of a negligence claim.

Contact a Monmouth and Ocean County Personal Injury Attorney

If you are like Charlie Brown and have suffered from physical, mental, or emotional injuries it is important to reach out to an experienced personal injury attorney immediately to determine if you may be entitled to relief.

The Attorneys at Chamlin, Uliano & Walsh are prepared to walk you through the legal process every step of the way. Reach us at our West Long Branch office or fill out a contact form today. Our knowledgeable team is waiting for your call.