Handicapped Children’s Education Board v. Lukaszewski
332 N.W.2d 774 (Wis.1983).

Facts:

  • Elaine Lukaszewski was hired as a speech and language therapist for the spring term at Lightfoot School. She then signed a contract to continue working there for the following year.
    • The salary was $10,760.
    • The school was 45 miles away, and she commuted.
  • In August of 1978, prior to the beginning of the school year, Lukaszewski was offered a position by the Wee Care Day Care Center which was located closer to her home. The job paid an annual salary of $13,000.
    • She accepted the offer, but the Board refused to release her from her contract.
  • Lukaszewski left the Wee Care Day Care Center and returned to Lightfoot School, but resented the actions of the Board. She called her doctor to make an appointment for that afternoon and subsequently left the school.
    • Dr. Ashok Chatterjee examined Lukaszewski and found her blood pressure to be high, and wrote a letter to the Board. It was his opinion that her medical condition would not improve unless the situation which caused the problem was removed. He also it would be dangerous for her to drive long distances in her agitated state.
  • Lukaszewski submitted a letter of resignation:
    • “I enclose a copy of the doctor’s statement concerning my health. On the basis of it, I must resign. I am unwilling to jeopardize my health and I am also unwilling to become involved in an accident. For these reasons, I tender my resignation.”
  • The Board found only one qualified replacement and were forced to go with her, despite an increased salary (more experience).
  • The Board initiated an action against Lukaszewski for breach of contract.

History:
The trial court ruled that Lukaszewski had breached her contract and awarded the Board $1,249.14 in damages ($1,026.64 for breach of contract and $222.50 for costs).

Issue:
Whether Lukaszewski breached her employment contract with the Board – i.e., was her resignation unjustified?

Holding:
Yes. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • A health danger will not excuse nonperformance of a contractual obligation when the danger is caused by the nonperforming party.
    • Nor will a health condition or danger which was foreseeable when the contract was entered into justify its breach.
  • Here, the court was of the opinion that the medical problems that Lukaszewski experienced were self induced.
    • The court believed that her excuse was a result of the stress condition she created by an attempted repudiation of her contract.
      • Additionally, she had a well known history of hypertension.
    • As for the commute, she chose that by not moving closer to the school, and was commuting just fine prior to the resigning.

Dissent:
“The majority here seized on the rationale that illness that is ‘self induced’ is somehow less worthy of judicial consideration than illness caused by others, or by outside forces over which the patient has no control.”

  • “Either, in my opinion, should justify termination of the contract where the physical symptoms are medically certifiable as they admittedly are here.”
  • “Under this new found axiom, could a concert violinist under contract be sued to cover any added costs of his replacement if he lost an arm in an accident where he was found 100 percent negligent?”

Prof: Essentially an impracticability case.