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Marsalis v. LaSalle

    Brief Fact Summary. After LaSalle’s (Defendant’s) cat scratched Marsalis (Plaintiff), Defendant agreed to keep the cat under observation until it could be tested for rabies. The cat got out and Plaintiff underwent extensive treatment for rabies as a precaution. Plaintiff sued Defendant for damages.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. One who voluntarily takes upon oneself a duty is under a legal obligation to use reasonable in carrying out that duty.

    Facts. Plaintiff was bitten or scratched by Defendant minor son’s Siamese cat. Plaintiff requested that Defendant keep the cat under observation for fourteen days until it could be determined whether the animal was rabid. Defendant agreed to do so. If the cat were allowed to wander around the neighborhood, Plaintiff would never know if she had rabies without undergoing traumatic tests. Four or five days later, the cat escaped when Defendant and some of her friends were exiting the basement. The cat was gone for about a month and its whereabouts were unknown. Upon returning home the animal gave no evidence of ever being infected. In the meantime, Plaintiff had undergone extensive treatment, including several injections. Plaintiff sued for personal injuries, seeking reimbursement of the cost of medical treatment. Plaintiff received judgment. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. If one voluntarily undertakes to care for, or to afford relieve or attendance to, an ill, injured, or helpless person is he under a legal obligation to use reasonable care and prudence in what he does?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * One who voluntarily undertakes to care for, or to afford relieve or attendance to, an ill, injured, or helpless person is under a legal obligation to use reasonable care and prudence.
    * Defendant’s liability depends upon whether or not his failure to use reasonable care was the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injuries. Initially, Defendant owed Plaintiff no duty. However, once Defendant agreed to restrain and keep the cat under observation, he was bound to use reasonable care and prudence in doing so. Plaintiff unquestionably and in good faith relied upon Defendant to carry out the agreement, which he voluntarily made. By voluntarily agreeing to keep inside and observe the cat, Defendant owed Plaintiff a duty.
    * Defendant made no change whatsoever in the animal’s usual routine. Defendant failed to use ordinary or reasonable care to see to it that the animal was kept secure. Defendant is liable for whatever damages Plaintiff sustained as a result of Defendant’s lack of care.

    Discussion. In this case, Defendant would not have undertaken a duty if he had not agreed to look after the cat. Defendant imposed upon himself a duty to use reasonable care. The breech of that duty was the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injuries. If Defendant had used reasonable care, then Plaintiff would not have had to undergo the course of injections.


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