Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Webb (Plaintiff), in trying to save the Defendant, McGowin’s (Defendant) life, seriously injured himself. Defendant promised to pay Plaintiff a stipend for life and later ceases payment. Plaintiff sued to enforce the promise.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The material benefit rule dictates that a moral obligation is a sufficient consideration to support a subsequent promise to pay where the promisor has received a material benefit, although there was no original duty or liability resting on the promisor.
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. Yes. Reversed.
For a moral obligation to support a subsequent promise to pay, there must have existed a prior legal or equitable obligation, which for some reason had become unenforceable, but for which the promisor was still morally bound. This rule is subject to qualification. There are cases where subsequent promise is an affirmance of the services rendered presuming a previous request was made.
Because Plaintiff was injured this was part of the consideration and Plaintiff’s actions were not gratuitous.
Concurrence. This case does not follow the strict letter of law. But, as Holmes says “I do not think that law ought to be separated from justice, where it is at most doubtful.”
Discussion. The court considers the material benefit rule and finds that the saving of the defendant’s life was a material benefit. This combined with the promise to pay, results in consideration and an enforceable contract.