Contract Law 18 I Mills v Wyman (moral obligation) | Summary and Q&A

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July 21, 2017
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Contract Law 18 I Mills v Wyman (moral obligation)

TL;DR

These cases examine the concept of moral obligation in contract law and the requirements for consideration.

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Questions & Answers

Q: In Mills v. Wyman, why did the court hold that the defendant's moral obligation was not sufficient consideration?

The court believed that a mere moral obligation, without a pre-existing legal obligation, is not enough to enforce a promise, even if the refusal to perform the promise may be disgraceful. Only a pre-existing legal obligation combined with a subsequent promise can qualify as consideration.

Q: What was the ruling in Webb v. McGowan regarding the defendant's moral obligation?

In Webb v. McGowan, the court held that a moral obligation, along with a material benefit received by the promisor, can be considered sufficient consideration. The promise to pay made by McGowan after Webb saved his life was upheld.

Q: How does the concept of past consideration affect the outcome of these cases?

Past consideration refers to acts or benefits rendered before the promise is made. In both cases, past consideration (the good deeds performed) was not considered sufficient consideration. Mills lost because traditional contract law does not recognize past consideration as consideration, while Webb won due to the exception for moral obligations supported by a material benefit.

Q: How does the Restatement of Contracts relate to the rulings in these cases?

The Restatement section 86 states that a promise made in recognition of a benefit previously received by the promisor is binding to prevent injustice. This aligns with the modern rule followed in Webb v. McGowan, where moral obligation combined with a material benefit is considered sufficient consideration.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Mills v. Wyman (1825): Mills cared for Wyman's adult son without consent and Wyman promised to pay for the expenses. However, the court held that moral obligation alone is not sufficient consideration to enforce the promise.

  • Webb v. McGowan (1935): After Webb saved McGowan's life, McGowan promised to pay him for the rest of his life. The court ruled that a moral obligation combined with a material benefit can be considered sufficient consideration.

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