Friday, March 9, 2007
I know I'm a bit ahead of schedule, but I will be traveling on Monday and unable to post.
The best scenarios out there for explaining the doctrine of restitution are provided, IMHO, by Seinfeld and The Incredibles. In a late Seinfeld episode, the Elaine character, suffering from back pain, offers to give anything to anyone who could relieve her of the pain. Kramer grabs Elain's head, and as she objects, proceeds to twist it until her neck cracks. Elaine feels immediate relief and thanks Kramer, at which point he demands payment for his services. In my book, he was an officious intermeddler who deserved no payment for his services. In any case, Elaine's pain soon returned with a vengeance. But Elaine didn't ask my advice. I believe the dispute was settled by Newman.
The Incredibles provides two illustrations of the doctrine. In the first, Mr. Incredible saves the life of a suicide, but in so doing causes some bodily harm to the man. The would-be suicide then files suit for damages, and the improbable success of this suit is then the vehicle for the film's premise -- a world in which plaintiffs' attorneys destroy the entire culture of the superheroes. But if Mr. Incredible were simply in the habit of demanding payment for his good deeds, he would have a slam dunk defense, just as a doctor who causes some injuries in reviving an unconscious patient could not be sued for assault. Inded, rather than being sued, Mr. Incredible would likely succeed on a restitution claim.
In the second, Edna Mode, having prepared a new supersuit for Mr. Incredible, prepares matching clothing for the rest of the family. Mr. Incredible's wife, Helen (aka Elastigirl), at first expresses shock and outrage that Edna would make such a presumption, but then, for reasons that need not concern us here, ends up using Edna's supersuits. This may well illustrate ratification, but it can also be a basis for a good discussion of restitution.
Alas, I have yet to find a casebook that includes discussions of these scenarios, perhaps because Newman does not publish his opinions and it is not clear whether Helen paid Edna for the supersuits or if Edna needed to bring suit to collect. So, I am left teaching the Pelo case, which is not nearly as entertaining.
Credit Bureau Enterprises, Inc. v. Pelo
Does the doctrine of restitution
Provide a fair resolution?
It keeps doctors secure
When consent is obscure
And thus prevents self-execution.