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Lawrence v. Anderson

    Brief Fact Summary. A doctor treated a man who suffered injuries from a car accident.  The injured man's daughter told the doctor to do anything he could to help her father, and that she would pay him.  The injured man eventually died.  The doctor initially sent bills directly to the deceased's estate and then sued the deceased's daughter.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A promise to pay the debt of another is within the Statute of Frauds ("SOF") and as such must be in writing.

    Facts. On October 1, 1933, the Plaintiff, Lawrence (the "Plaintiff"), a licensed physician, tended to the Defendant, Ms. Anderson's (the "Defendant") father, whose name was John Anderson ("Mr. Anderson"), after a car accident.  The Plaintiff was directed by the Defendant to do everything in his power to take care of her father.  A witness named Charles Brown ("Mr. Brown") testified that the Defendant stated "I want my father taken care of, and give him the best care you can give him, and what the charges are * * * I will pay for it."  Mr. Anderson was taken by ambulance, treated in the hospital, discharged and subsequently died of his injuries.  The Plaintiff sent several bills to Mr. Anderson's estate, but none of them were paid.  The Plaintiff then brought suit and the Defendant was victorious.  The Plaintiff appealed the verdict.

    Issue. Does the promise to pay the debt of another fall within the SOF?

    Held. Yes.  The court observed that the general rule is that "one who merely calls a physician to render services to another is not liable therefor in the absence of an express agreement, unless he is legally bound to furnish such service, as it is a fair inference from the evidence that it was the intention of both parties that he should pay for it."  The court observed that Mr. Brown's testimony that the Defendant promised to pay for the Plaintiff's services, ordinarily would "make an entirely different case for the plaintiff."  This testimony shows "that the defendant not only requested the services, but also that she made a direct promise to pay the plaintiff." 
    •    At first glance, the Statute of Frauds does not apply to a situation like this because "it is not a promise to pay the debt of another, but is a promise to pay the debt of the promisor– Done that he makes his own by force of his engagement."  However, the Plaintiff made his original charges against Mr. Anderson's estate and the Plaintiff is not entitled to compensation from both Mr. Anderson and the Defendant.  Although this initial request is rebuttable and not conclusive, the proof needed to rebut it "must be strong of character".  Here, "no explanation is made or attempted. No reason is given why these charges were made against Anderson. So it must be taken that it was because the plaintiff considered him responsible therefor."  As such, the Plaintiff's promise was to pay a debt of another and that sort of promise must be in writing to satisfy the SOF.

    Discussion. This case demonstrates how the promise to pay the debt of another is within the SOF and must be in writing.


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