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Webb v. McGowin

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

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Webb v. McGowin

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Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Webb was injured while trying to protect McGowin from injury. McGowin made payments to Plaintiff following his injury. Plaintiff brings this action to compel Defendant, McGowin’s estate, to continue making payments.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A subsequent promise is enforceable where the promisor has received a material benefit from the promisee.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

We think that, in conformity to the great weight of authority, the rule in this state is, a moral obligation is not a sufficient consideration to support an executory express promise, unless there has been an antecedent legal liability, which has become suspended or barred by operation of some positive rule of law, which extinguished the remedy but not the debt, or where the promisee has suffered some detriment in reliance upon the promise, or where the promisor has received an actual pecuniary or material benefit for which he subsequently expressly promised to pay.

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Facts. Plaintiff was dropping blocks of wood from the upper floor to the ground below. Plaintiff noticed that a falling block was about to injure McGowin. Plaintiff diverted the block preventing McGowin from being injured, but sustaining serious injury to himself. Had Plaintiff not diverted the block, McGowin would have been seriously injured or killed. McGowin promised to pay Plaintiff $15 every two weeks for the rest of his life. McGowin made the payments until his death and Plaintiff continued to receive payments shortly after his death. Plaintiff is bringing this cause of action to compel Defendant to continue the payments.

Issue. Can Plaintiff enforce McGowin’s promise to make payments?

Held. Yes. McGowin’s promise is enforceable because Plaintiff conferred a material benefit on McGowin. While generally a moral obligation will not make an agreement enforceable, where a material benefit has been conferred, the material benefit will provide consideration for the subsequent promise. When Plaintiff saved McGowin’s life, McGowin received a material benefit from Plaintiff which provided consideration to make his subsequent promise enforceable.

Discussion. In the present case, the Court found that McGowin’s subsequent promise was enforceable because he had received a material benefit from Plain

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