Farwell v. Keaton (Michigan, 1976)

Procedural History: Jury returned a verdict for plaintiff and warded $15,000 in damages. Court of Appeals reversed, finding that Siegrist had not assumed duty of obtaining aid for Farwell and that he neither knew nor should have known of the need for medical treatment. Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the jury’s verdict.

Facts: On the evening of August 26, 1966, Siegrist and Farwell drove to a trailer rental lot to return an automobile which Siegrist had borrowed from a friend who worked there. While waiting for the friend to get off of work, the two consumed beer. Two girls walked by the lot entrance and the two attempted to engage them in conversation and followed the girls to a drive-in restraurant down the street. Six boys chased Siegrist and Farwell back to the lot and Farwell was severely beaten. Siegrist found Farwell underneath his automobile in the lot and applied ice to his head. Siegrist drove Farwell around for about 2 hours, stopping at a few drive-in restaurants. Around midnight, Siegrist drove Farwell to his grandparent’s house and tried to wake up Farwell. He was unsuccessful, parked the car in the driveway, and left. His grandparents found him in the car the next morning and brought him to the hospital. He died 3 days later of an epidural hematoma. A neurosurgeon testified that if a person in Farwell’s condition is taken to a hospital within half an hour after consciousness is lost, there is a 85-88% chance of survival.

Issue: Did Siegrist have a legal duty to seek aid for Farwell?

Rules: It is the legal duty of every person to avoid any affirmative acts which may make the situation worse. If the defendant does attempt to aid him, and takes charge and control, he is regarded as voluntarily entering into a relation which is attended with responsibility. The defendant will then be liable for a failure to use reasonable care for the protection of the plaintiff’s interests. Where performance clearly has begun, there is no doubt that there is a duty of care.

Application: Because Farwell and Siegrist were companions on a social venture, there is an adequate relationship between them to invoke a legal duty of care to the other when he is in peril. Because there was a special relationship, Siegrist had a legal duty to act and seek aid for Farwell. Because he breached this duty, he is liable for Farwell’s damages.

Conclusion: Because it was determined that there was a special relationship between the two by taking up a common undertaking, and because Siegrist knew or should have known of the peril Farwell was in and could render assistance without endangering himself, he had a legal duty to act and come to Farwell’s aid.

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