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Harrington v. Taylor

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Harrington (Plaintiff), saved the Defendant, Taylor (Defendant), from death or serious bodily injury. Plaintiff was promised compensation, but Defendant failed to fully comply with the promise.  Plaintiff sues to enforce the original promise.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A humanitarian and voluntary act followed by a promise is not valid consideration.

    Facts. Defendant assaulted his wife who took refuge in Plaintiff’s house.  Defendant entered the house and began to assault his wife.  The wife knocked Defendant down with an axe and was about to decapitate him when Plaintiff intervened and as a result her hand was badly mutilated.  Consequently, Defendant promised orally to pay Plaintiff damages.  Defendant paid a small sum, but refused to pay the full amount.

    Issue. If a promisee cares for, improves, or preserves the property of the promisor, though done without his request, is it sufficient consideration for the promisor’s subsequent agreement to pay for the service?

    Held. No. Affirmed.
    •    This is a moral obligation unenforceable at law. This is a humanitarian act and voluntarily performed, which is not a substitute for consideration.

    Discussion. This case illustrates the court’s differing opinions on the way a humanitarian act followed by a promise can substitute for consideration. The facts on their face are very similar to those of Webb v. McGowin, but the court arrives at a different result.


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