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04/01/76 FARWELL v. KEATON

April 1, 1976

FARWELL
v.
KEATON



Levin, J. Kavanagh, C. J., and Williams, J., concurred with Levin, J. Lindemer and Ryan, JJ., took no part in the decision of this case. Fitzgerald, J., Dissenting. Coleman, J., concurred with Fitzgerald, J.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Opinion of the Court

1. Negligence -- Duty of Care -- Question of Law -- Question of Fact.

The existence of a duty of one person to another is ordinarily a question of law in a negligence case; however, where there are factual circumstances which would give rise to a duty, the existence of those facts must be determined by a jury.

2. Negligence -- Injured Persons -- Assistance -- Duty of Care.

Every person has a duty to avoid any affirmative acts which may make a situation worse for another in distress; if a defendant attempts to aid an injured person a duty arises which requires the defendant to act as a reasonable person and he is liable for a failure to use reasonable care for the protection of the injured person's interests.

3. Negligence -- Injured Persons -- Assistance -- Duty of Care.

Sufficient evidence was produced for a jury to find that a defendant breached a legal duty owed to a decedent where the defendant knew the decedent had been in a fight, the defendant attempted to relieve the decedent's pain by applying an ice pack to his head, the decedent crawled in the back seat of the car defendant was driving and laid down, defendant later attempted to rouse the decedent was unable to do so and defendant failed to tell anyone that the injured decedent was asleep in the car although he later admitted knowing the decedent was severely injured.

4. Negligence -- Injured Persons -- Duty of Care -- Common Undertaking -- Social Companions.

Social companions engaged in a common undertaking assume a special relationship which creates an affirmative duty of one to render assistance to another in peril if he can do so without endangering himself.

Dissenting Opinion

Coleman and Fitzgerald, JJ.

5. Negligence -- Injured Persons -- Assistance -- Duty of Care.

Defendant, a companion of a decedent, had no obligation to assume, nor did he assume, a duty of rendering medical or other assistance to the decedent where defendant and decedent were chased by a group of men, defendant escaped but the decedent was caught and beaten, the decedent never complained of pain and expressed a desire to retaliate against his attackers, defendant left decedent, asleep, in the decedent's automobile parked in the driveway of the decedent's grandparents' house, the decedent died of an epidural hematoma a few days later, and only a qualified physician would have reason to suspect that decedent had suffered an injury which required immediate medical attention.

6. Negligence -- Duty of Care -- Medical Assistance.

The posture of a wrongful death case in which a decedent's companion failed to obtain medical assistance after the decedent was beaten by a group of men, where the facts within the companion's knowledge in no way indicated that immediate medical attention was necessary, does not permit the Supreme Court to create a legal duty upon one to render assistance to another injured or imperiled party where the initial injury was not caused by the person upon whom the duty is sought to be imposed.

7. Negligence -- Legal Duty -- Question of Law.

The principle that the question of negligence is one of law for the court only when the facts are such that all reasonable men must draw the same Conclusion becomes operative only after the court establishes that a legal duty is owed by one party to another.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Levin

Richard Murray Farwell and David Siegrist, companions for an evening of recreation, were chased by Terry Ingland, Robert Brock, Jr., Donald Keaton, Daniel Keaton, and at least two others. Siegrist escaped but Farwell was caught and beaten by the pursuers. Ice was applied to Farwell's head, and Siegrist and Farwell then visited several drive-in restaurants. Farwell later went to sleep in the back seat of his car, and Siegrist drove it to the house of Farwell's grandparents and left it in the driveway, after unsuccessfully attempting to rouse Farwell. Farwell was found by his grandparents in the morning and taken to a hospital, where he died of an epidural hematoma. Richard M. Farwell, Jr., administrator of the estate of Richard Murray Farwell, deceased, brought an action for wrongful death against David Siegrist, Donald Keaton, Daniel Keaton, Terry Ingland, and Robert Brock, Jr., in the Wayne Circuit Court, Robert E. Cunningham, J. The jury returned a verdict of no cause of action for defendants Brock and Daniel Keaton and a verdict against defendant Siegrist. A default judgment was entered against defendants Ingland and Donald Keaton. Defendant Siegrist appealed to the Court of Appeals, McGregor, P. J., and J. H. Gillis and O'Hara, JJ., which reversed (Docket No. 14735). Plaintiff appeals. Held:

1. The existence of a duty of one person to assist another is ordinarily a question of law, but there are factual circumstances which give rise to a duty and the existence of those facts must be determined by a jury.

2. There is a legal duty of every person to avoid any affirmative acts which may make a situation worse for another who is in distress. If defendant Siegrist attempted to aid the decedent, a duty arose which required Siegrist to act as a reasonable person in protecting the decedent's interests, and it was for the jury to determine whether the defendant did attempt aid.

3. Farwell and Siegrist were companions engaged in a common undertaking; there was a special relationship between the parties. Because Siegrist knew or should have known of the peril Farwell was in and could render assistance without endangering himself he had an affirmative duty to come to Farwell's aid.

4. The jury found that defendant Siegrist did not act reasonably in attempting to aid the decedent and that Siegrist's negligence was the proximate cause of the decedent's death.

The verdict is reinstated.

Justice Fitzgerald, Justice Coleman Concurring, would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the following reasons:

1. This is not the appropriate case to establish a standard of conduct requiring one to assume legally the duty of insuring the safety of another. The facts within defendant's knowledge in no way indicated that immediate medical attention was necessary, the relationship between the parties imposed no affirmative duty to render assistance, and the injury was not caused by defendant.

2. Defendant Siegrist had no obligation to assume, nor did he assume, a duty of rendering medical or other assistance to the decedent. His actions did not indicate that he "volunteered" to aid Farwell, and consequently there could be no discontinuance of aid which left ...


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