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Farwell v. Keaton

Citation. Supreme Court of Michigan, 1976. 396 Mich. 281, 240 N.W.2d 217.
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Citation. Supreme Court of Michigan, 1976. 396 Mich. 281, 240 N.W.2d 217.

Brief Fact Summary.

Farwell and Defendant (Siegrist) were chased and beaten by six boys after they flirted with their female friend. Farwell was severely beaten, and Siegrist picked him up and drove Farwell around for several hours. Defendant left Farwell in the backseat of his car in his grandparent’s driveway because he could not wake him.  Three days later, Farwell died.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When a special relationship is present there is a general duty to render aid to your companion and if a person fails to meet this duty will be negligent.


Friends Siegrist(Defendant) and Farwell went to drop off Siegrist’s rental car. While waiting on their ride home, the defendant and Farwell went to a bar and had a few drinks. They then became slightly intoxicated and started flirting with two women. The defendant and Farwell followed these women, and the women told their six male friends, who then jumped the defendant and Farwell. The defendant escaped, but Farwell was severely beaten. Later the defendant goes back to the scene of the incident to find Farwell under his vehicle in poor condition. The defendant then gets an ice pack to place on Farwell’s head. The defendant drives him around for two hours before dropping him at his grandparents’ home. The defendant tried to wake Farwell up when he dropped him off but failed to bring him to consciousness and just left him in their driveway. Three days later, Farwell died of an epidural hematoma. During the trial, a doctor testified that had Farwell been brought to the hospital within an hour of his injury, he would have had an over eighty percent chance of survival. Farwell’s father(plaintiff) sues the defendant, alleging that he is the proximate cause of Farwell’s death and should be liable for negligence.


When a person voluntarily helps a person they know or should have known is in peril with whom they have a special relationship, do they have an affirmative duty to render reasonable care?


Yes, a person who voluntarily helps a person who they know or should have known is in peril with whom they have a special relationship has an affirmative duty to render reasonable care.


Justice Fitzgerald, J.

Justice Fitzgerald contends that the defendant did not have a duty to render aid to Farwell. Fitzgerald asserts that the majority did not cite any authority besides public policy as to why the defendant had a duty. The court conflates a legal duty with the moral obligation to render aid. There are also no facts present that show that defendant knew immediate care was necessary. Finally, the court must first determine if there was a duty, and then the jury can decide if it was met. Justice Fitzgerald finds that this case is a question of law misapplied in this case and finds the defendant not to have a duty.


Factual circumstances can give rise to a duty. The defendant knew that Farwell had been in a fight and knew that he was severely injured. This is proven through the facts when he tried to aid Farwell with getting him an ice pack. A duty arises when there is a special relationship; here, the defendant and Farwell were friends constituting this special relationship. Once a special relationship is established, there is a common understanding that one will render aid when he is in peril if he can do so without harming himself. The defendant could have taken Farwell to the hospital or his family earlier. The court found that the defendant’s behavior fell below reasonable care in rendering aid.

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