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Law School Case Brief

Mills v. Wyman - 20 Mass. 207 (1825)

Rule:

When the child shall have attained to manhood, and shall have become his own agent in the world's business, the debts he incurs, whatever may be their nature, create no obligation upon the father; and it seems to follow, that the father's promise founded upon such a debt has no legally binding force.

Facts:

Plaintiff good Samaritan provided board, nursing, and care to defendant's adult son for a two week period after he returned from a voyage at sea poor, in distress, and sick. After the good Samaritan had finished caring for defendant's son, the father (defendant) wrote a letter promising to pay the good Samaritan for his expenses. When the father did not pay as he promised, the good Samaritan sued. The good Samaritan's complaint was dismissed for lack of consideration. The good Samaritan appealed. 

Issue:

Where an adult son was suddenly taken sick and cared for by plaintiff good Samaritan, and afterwards the father wrote promising to pay him the expenses incurred, was the father's written promise made with the legal consideration necessary to render his promise valid?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts affirmed because there was no legal consideration for the father's promise to pay the good Samaritan's expenses. The kindness and services provided for the father's son were not bestowed at the father's request, and he was not legally obligated to support his son in any way. Thus, because the son was an adult who was responsible for his own debts, any debt he incurred created no obligation upon the father. Without consideration, the father's promise founded upon such a debt had no legally binding force. The Court was unable to find a case in which it was decided, that a promise to pay the debt of a son of full age, not living with his father, though the debt were incurred by sickness which ended in the death of the son, without a previous request by the father proved or presumed, could be enforced by action.

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