Wakulich v. Mraz
322 Ill.App.3d 768, 751 N.E.2d 1, 255 Ill.Dec. 907 (2001)

  • At a party, the Mraz brother entered a drinking contest with Wakulich, who was only 16. Wakulich soon lost consciousness. Through the night, the Mraz brothers did not attempt to get medical care, and in fact prevented others from calling an ambulance.
    • While unconscious, the Mraz brothers made Wakulich comfortable and gave her a pillow for her head.
  • The next morning, they took her unconscious body to a friend’s house, who called an ambulance. Wakulich was pronounced dead.
  • Wakulich’s parents sued the Mraz brothers, and their father (who was in the house during the party) for wrongful death.
  • The Trial Court dismissed the charges for failure to state a cause of action.
    • Illinois State law did not allow liability of social hosts for providing alcohol.
  • Wakulich’s parents appealed, this time pleading that the Mraz brothers failed to exercise due care when they voluntarily undertook the duty to care for Wakulich after she passed out.
  • The Appellate Court agreed with the new pleading and remanded the case for trial.
    • The Appellate Court found that while the Mraz Brothers had not breached any duty of care by giving alcohol to Wakulich, they did potentially breach a duty of care by voluntarily offering to care for Wakulich after she became unconscious and having allegedly failed to exercise due care in the performance of that undertaking.
    • The Court found that the Mraz brother’s actions demonstrated that they provided care for Wakulich. If they had provided better care (like say calling an ambulance), Wakulich would not have died.
  • Basically, the Court held that the Mraz brothers had no duty to care in preventing Wakulich from drinking (that was her choice), aka nonfeasance, but, once she was unconscious, the brothers took on a duty to provide reasonable care by volunteering to take care of her. Doing that duty negligently results in possibly liability, aka misfeasance.
    • Preventing others from calling for help is a positive act, so the doctrine of nonfeasance doesn’t apply here.
  • 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.