Farwell v. Keaton
396 Mich. 281, 240 N.W.2d 217 (1976)
Farwell and Siegrist were friends who hit on some girls
they saw walking down the street. The girls called their male friends
(including Keaton) who chased and beat Farwell unconscious.
Siegrist picked up Farwell, put some ice on his head, put
him in his car, and drove around for a while. Fallwell passed out.
Siegrist was unable to arouse Falwell, so he left him in the backseat of
the car for the night. Falwell died three days later.
There was evidence that prompt medical attention could
have saved Falwell's life.
Siegrist did not attempt to get medical care for Falwell,
or alert anyone to his whereabouts.
Siegrist argued that Falwell was intoxicated and Siegrist
could not have known how badly he had been injured.
Falwell was conscious and talking for several hours before
Falwell's parents sued the attackers, and also sued
Siegrist for wrongful death.
Falwell's parent's attorney later said the wanted to go
after Siegrist because he had insurance and the attackers didn't.
The Trial Court found for Falwell and awarded $15k in
damages. Siegrist appealed.
The Trial Court also found some of the people who beat
Falwell were liable, but they had no money so there was no point in
pursuing a judgment against them.
The Appellate Court reversed. Falwell's parents appealed.
The Appellate Court found that Siegrist had not assumed a
duty to care for Falwell.
"Although a cause of action generally arises when
injury is caused by another's misfeasance, nonfeasance
does not give rise to a cause of action because although one is
obligated not to create an unreasonable risk to others, one is not
similarly required to help someone who has been injured by another or
The Michigan Supreme Court reversed and reinstated
the Trial Court's verdict.
The Michigan Supreme Court found that Siegrist had
voluntarily assumed a duty to care by attempting to aid Farwell.
By taking control of Farwell and removing him from the
scene, Siegrist had made himself responsible for Farwell's care. If
Siegrist had not acted, perhaps someone else would have found Falwell's
unconscious body in the street and called an ambulance (or maybe Falwell would have gone to the hospital on his own).
The Court felt that there was a special
relationship between Falwell and Siegrist on the grounds that they
were friends, and that relationship imposed extra duties on Siegrist.
The Restatement Third of Torts: Liability for Physical
Harm §45 says that when a person voluntarily begins to take charge of
an imperiled and helpless person, he has assumed a duty to take charge in
a reasonable manner.
Siegrist provided Falwell with a bag of ice and some
care. He was not a doctor and had no way of knowing that Falwell was
fatally injured and required immediate medical attention. Could he argue
that he did provide a reasonable standard of care as far as he could tell?
Would it have been better if Siegrist just left Falwell in
the street? If he had, he would never have assumed a duty to care
and the Court would not have held him liable.
Basically, this case said that in certain settings friends owe each other
a duty to rescue which strangers would not owe. In addition, it is a good example of the traditional rule that once
you begin to assist or aid a person in peril, you have a duty to do so
with due care.