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Farwell v. Keaton

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff appealed a ruling from the Court of Appeals of Michigan, which held that Defendant did not assume a duty to aid his companion, and neither knew nor should have known of the need for medical treatment, in a wrongful death action for negligence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Courts have been slow to recognize a duty to render aid to a person in peril. When such a duty has been found, it has been predicated upon the existence of a special relationship between the parties; in such a case, if defendant knew or should have known of the other person’s peril, he is required to render reasonable care under all circumstances. Such a defendant will then be liable for a failure to use reasonable care for the protection of the plaintiff’s interests.

    Facts. Richard Farwell, 18, and his friend David Siegrist, 16, had a few beers while waiting for a friend to finish work. When teenage girls walked by they attempted conversation without success. The girls complained to friends that they were being followed, and six boys chased Farwell and Siegrist back to a trailer lot. Siegrist escaped, but Farwell was severely beaten. Siegrist found him under a car, put ice on his head and then drove around for two hours, stopping at drive-in restaurants. Farwell “went to sleep” in the back of the car and around midnight Siegrist drove him to his grandparents’ home, where he left him in the back of the car after an attempt to arouse him. Farwell died three days later from the beating and there was evidence that prompt medical attention could have prevented this.
    The jury found for the Plaintiff in an action for Farwell’s death, but the court of appeals reversed on the ground that Siegrist had not assumed any duty to aid Farwell.

    Issue. Did the appellate court err in reversing the trial court’s ruling in favor of Plaintiff?

    Held. Yes. The Supreme Court of Michigan reversed and reinstated the jury verdict, finding that Defendant had an affirmative duty to aid, because he had a special relationship with the deceased, he knew or should have known of the peril the deceased was in, and he could have rendered assistance without endangering himself.

    Discussion. Farwell and Siegrist were companions on a social venture. As such, a special relationship existed between the parties. Implicit in such a common undertaking is the understanding that one will render assistance to the together when he is in peril if he can do so without endangering himself. Siegrist knew or should have known when he left Farwell, who was badly beaten and unconscious, in the back seat of his car that no one would find him before morning. Under these circumstances, to say that Siegrist had no duty to obtain medial assistance or at least to notify someone of Farwell’s condition and whereabouts would be “shocking to humanitarian considerations” and fly in thecae of “the commonly accepted code of social conduct.”
    Therefore, on appeal, the court reversed and reinstated the jury verdict, finding that Defendant had the affirmative duty to aid, because he had a special relationship with the deceased, he knew or should have known of the peril the deceased was in, and he could have rendered assistance without endangering himself.


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