Pursell v Horn [1838] 112 ER 966

Battery, direct versus indirect contact, throwing water on a person


In this case the defendant threw water on the claimant and got both the claimant and the claimant’s clothes, wet. The claimant started an action for battery. This was a novel approach since until then battery had generally been confined to more direct contact, such as touching of a person in anger (Cole v Turner (1704)), but sought to build on cases such as Gibbons v Pepper (1695) where indirect contact causing harm was actionable (in that case the wrongful action was slapping a horse and causing it to hurt the Claimant).


The issue in this case was what degree of direct physical contact was required in order for a claim in battery to be successfully. Essentially the question was whether it was necessary for direct contact to occur between the bodies of the claimant and defendant or whether indirect contact would suffice.


The court held that throwing water on a person can constitute a battery, regardless of the lack of physical contract between the defendant and the claimant’s bodies. The requirement for directness was not completely discarded however, as the court made a distinction between situations in which the defendant only succeeds in splashing the claimant’s clothes and a situation in which he splashes both the claimant’s clothes and their body. The defendant getting wet because their clothes became wet would be insufficient for battery, but direct contact between the water thrown and the claimant’s body was sufficient.