Copyright 1965, American Law Institute

Division One - Intentional Harms to Persons, Land, and Chattels
Chapter 1 - Meaning of Terms Used Throughout the Restatement of Torts

§ 2 ACT

 The word "act" is used throughout the Restatement of this Subject to denote an external manifestation of the actor's will and does not include any of its results, even the most direct, immediate, and intended.


a.  Necessity of volition.  There cannot be an act without volition. Therefore, a contraction of a person's muscles which is purely a reaction to some outside force, such as a knee jerk or the blinking of the eyelids in defense against an approaching missile, or the convulsive movements of an epileptic, are not acts of that person. So too, movements of the body during sleep when the will is in abeyance are not acts. Since some outward manifestation of the defendant's will is necessary to the existence of an act which can subject him to liability, it is not enough that a third person has utilized a part of the defendant's body as an instrument to carry out his own intention to cause harm to the plaintiff. In such case, as in the case of the knee jerk, the actor is the third person who has used the defendant's body as an instrument to accomplish some purpose of his own, or who has struck the defendant's leg so as to have caused the knee jerk.

b.  Freedom of actor's will.  If the actor's will is in fact manifested by some muscular contraction, including those which are necessary to the speaking of words, it is not necessary that his will operate freely and without pressure from outside circumstances. Indeed, the fact that the pressure is irresistible in the sense that it is one which reasonable men cannot be expected to resist, does not prevent its manifestation from being an act, although it may make the act excusable. A muscular reaction is always an act unless it is a purely reflexive reaction in which the mind and will have no share. Thus, if A, finding himself about to fall, stretches his hand out to seize some object, whether a fellow human being or a mere inanimate object, to save himself from falling, the stretching out of his hand and the grasping of the object is an act in the sense in which that word has heretofore been used, since the defendant's mind has grasped the situation and has dictated a muscular contraction which his rapidly formed judgment leads him to believe to be helpful to prevent his fall. While the decision is formed instantaneously, none the less the movement of the hand is a response to the will exerted by a mind which has already determined upon a distinct course of action. The exigency in which the defendant is placed, the necessity for a rapid decision, the fact that the decision corresponds to a universal tendency of mankind, may be enough to relieve the defendant from liability, but it is not enough to prevent his grasping of the object from being his act.

c.  Act and its consequences.  The word "act" includes only the external manifestation of the actor's will. It does not include any of the effects of such manifestation, no matter how direct, immediate, and intended. Thus, if the actor, having pointed a pistol at another, pulls the trigger, the act is the pulling of the trigger and not the impingement of the bullet upon the other's person. So too, if the actor intentionally strikes another, the act is only the movement of the actor's hand and not the contact with the other's body immediately established.