Summary of Stilk v. Myrick
Ct. of Common Pleas, 1809
Pre-existing Duty Rule
Relevant Facts: Pl, a seaman on a ship headed from London to the Baltic and back, was to be paid 5 pounds per month. Two sailors deserted the ship and the captain agreed to split their wages among the remaining 9 sailors, equally, if substitutes could not be found and the ship made it back to London.
Legal Issue(s): Whether the pl was entitled to additional pay, for incurring additional labor, when an emergency on the ship occurred?
Court’s Holding: No
Procedure: Pl filed an action to recover wages. Verdict for the Df.
Law or Rule(s): Agreements stemming out of a pre-existing duty are void for lack of consideration.
Court Rationale: There was no consideration for the pay promised to the mariners who remained on the ship. Before they sailed from London they had undertaken to do all they could under all the emergencies of the voyage. They sold their services until the voyage should be completed. The desertion of the two crew members is considered an emergency of the voyage as much as death. Those who remain are bound by the terms of their original contract to exert themselves to the utmost to bring the ship in safely to her port.
Plaintiff’s Argument: The df agreed to pay the wages of the two deserters in exchange for additional labor which was performed.
Defendant’s Argument: The sailors who remained had a duty to ensure that the ship made it back to port under the original agreement.