Contracts I, Pages 158–164 (ed. 1)

Webb v. McGowin

Court of Appeals of Alabama, 1935

Facts:

Plaintiff was was working at a lumber mill and was clearing the upper floor of the mill. Part of this was done by dropping a 75-pound pine block to the ground floor. As he was pushing it off, he saw McGowin below. Concerned the fall of the block would kill McGowin, plaintiff fell off with the block. This diverted the block from hitting McGowin, but permanently crippled Webb. Because plaintiff had prevented McGowin from being killed, he agreed to pay plaintiff $15 every fortnight for the rest of plaintiff's life. These payments continued regularly for almost ten years until McGowin died. Two more payments were then sent, at which time they were discontinued.

Procedural History:

The lower court sustained defendant's demurrer.

Issue:

Was McGowin's promise to pay someone for saving his life valid?

Defendant's Arguments:

  • Plaintiff states no cause of action

  • The contract was without consideration.

  • McGowin did not offer to pay before the services were rendered.

  • The contract is void under the statute of frauds.

Rule:

Where the promisee cares for, improves, and preserves the property of the promisor, though done without his request, it is sufficient consideration for the promisor's subsequent agreement to pay for the service, because of the material benefit received.

Reasoning:

One's body and life are quite valuable property. Saving it was then sufficient consideration for McGowin's promise.

Holding:

Yes, McGowin's promise to pay plaintiff for saving his life was valid. Reversed and remanded.

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