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 passing out.
  • 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 himself.”
  • 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.