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Law School Case Brief

Young v. Chicopee - 186 Mass. 518, 72 N.E. 63 (1904)


By the destruction of the object of a contract, each party is excused from further performance and the contractor can recover for partial performance. The principle upon which the contractor can do this is sometimes said to rest upon the doctrine that there is an implied contract upon the owner of the structure upon which the work is to be done that it shall continue to exist, and therefore, if it is destroyed, even without his fault, still he must be regarded as in default and so liable to pay for what has been done. That there is an implied assumpsit for what has properly been done by either of the parties, the law dealing with it as done at the request of the other, and creating a liability to pay for it its value. In whatever way the principle may be stated, the liability of the owner is measured by the amount of the contract work done which, at the time of the destruction of the structure, had become so far identified with it as that but for the destruction it would have inured to him as contemplated by the contract. 


The parties, Davis H. Young and the City of Chicopee, entered into a written contract providing for the repair of a wooden bridge. The contract provided that Young the contractor would be paid based on the amount of lumber incorporated into the repair work and required that at least half the lumber be on the job site before work could begin on the project. While the work was in progress, the bridge was totally destroyed by fire without the fault of either party so that the contract could not be completed. Much of the lumber already on the job but not yet incorporated into the bridge was destroyed. Young sued to recover for both the work already done and the materials destroyed. The trial court had entered judgment in favor of the City of Chicopee.


Could the contractor recover for partial performance for the work performed at the time of the fire?




The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts set aside the verdict and entered judgment in favor of Young as to the work performed at the time of the fire because the City of Chicopee was liable under an implied contract. However, the contractor could not recover for the lumber that had not yet been incorporated into the bridge. That lumber belonged to the contractor until wrought into the bridge and it was not insured by the city.

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