Cotnam v. Wisdom Case Brief

Summary of Cotnam v. Wisdom
Supreme Court of Arkansas,1907

Facts: The deceased was thrown from a street car and he hit his head on the curve and was unconscious. The plaintiffs, two physicians, performed surgery on the deceased while he was unconscious, but the plaintiffs were unable to save his life. The defendant, administrator of the deceased, did not pay the plaintiffs for their services because the defendant argued that since the deceased was unconscious, no contract was made between the deceased and the plaintiffs.

Procedure: The jury brought a verdict for the plaintiffs.

Issue: 1. Can the plaintiffs recover for their professional services that they rendered to the deceased? 2. Was the trial court correct in instructing the jury that it can consider the finances of the deceased in order to determine the compensation to the plaintiffs?

Holding: 1. Yes 2. No

Rationale: The plaintiffs can recover under a well accepted legal fiction of implied contract (aka quasi contract, constructive contract). In Sceva v. True, the court stated: “…an insane person, an idiot, or a person utterly bereft of all sense and reason by the sudden stroke of an accident or disease may be held liable, in assumpsit’s, for necessaries furnished to him in good faith while in that unfortunate and helpless condition." As far as the second issue is concerned, the jury could consider the means of the patient if there was an actual contract involved, but in the current legal fiction, such evidence should not be considered and the trial court erred by introducing such evidence to the jury. Reversed and remanded.

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