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Hertzog v. Hertzog - 29 Pa. 465 (1857)

Rule:

The law ordinarily presumes or implies a contract whenever it is necessary to account for other relations found to have existed between the parties. Thus if a man is found to have done work for another, and there appears no known relation between them that accounts for such service, the law presumes a contract of hiring. But if a man's house takes fire, the law does not presume or imply a contract to pay his neighbors for their services in saving his property. The common principles of human conduct mark self-interest as the motive of action in the one case, and kindness in the other; and therefore, by common custom, compensation is mutually counted on in one case, and in the other not.

Facts:

This suit was brought by plaintiff John Hertzog to recover from the estate of his father, George Hertzog, compensation for services rendered to George in his lifetime, and for money lent. The plaintiff was 21 years of age about the year 1825, but continued to reside with his father, who was a farmer, and to labour for him on the farm, except one year that he was absent in Virginia, until 1842, when the plaintiff married and took his wife to his father's, where they continued for some time as he had done before. His father then put him on another farm that the father owned, and some time afterwards the father and his wife moved into the same house with John, and continued to reside there until his death in 1849.  Plaintiff son brought an action for unpaid wages and repayment of a loan against the defendant estate of his father.  The trial court ordered judgment for the son on the wages claim. The estate appealed. 

Issue:

Can the defendant son recover wages from the estate of his father in the absence of any evidence that he was engaged to perform services for his father?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the judgment finding that the father had promised to pay the son and his wife for their work on the father's farm and awarded a new trial. The court held that it was generally presumed that a son worked for a father not for wages but out of love and affection, unless there was evidence to the contrary. Although John insisted that the contract was that the farm should be worked for the joint benefit of the father and son, and that the profits were to be divided, the court concluded that there is not a shadow of evidence of this. And moreover, it is quite apparent that it was wages only that was claimed before the jury for the services of the son and his wife, and all the evidence and the charge point only in that direction. 

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