the cases and precedents there is no mention of reward or consideration. In Powtuary v. Walton (1598), a case against a farrier who undertook to cure the plaintiff’s horse, and who treated it so negligently and unskilfully that it died, it is said: “Action on the case lies on this matter without alleging any consideration, for his negligence is the cause of the action, and not the assumpsit.” The gist of the action being tort, and not contract, a servant, a wife, or a child, who is injured, may sue a defendant who was employed by the master, the husband, or the father. Wherever the employment was not gratuitous, and the employer was himself the party injured, it would, of course, be a simple matter to frame a good count in contract. There is a precedent of assumpsit against a farrier for laming the plaintiff’s horse. But in practice assumpsit was rarely, if ever, resorted to.
What, then, was the significance of the assumpsit which appears in all the cases and precedents, except those against a smith for unskilful shoeing? To answer this question it is necessary to take into account a radical difference between modern and primitive conceptions of legal liability. The original notion of a tort to one’s person or property was an injury caused by an act of a stranger, in which the plaintiff did not in any way participate. A battery, an asportation of a chattel, an entry upon land, were the typical torts. If, on the other hand, one saw fit to authorize another to come into contact with his person or property, and damage ensued, there was, without more, no tort. The person injured took the risk of all injurious consequences, unless the other expressly assumed the risk himself, or unless the peculiar nature of one’s calling, as in the case of the smith, imposed a customary duty to act with reasonable skill. This conception is well shown by the remarks of the judges in a case against a horse-doctor. Newton, C.J.: “Perhaps he applied his medicines de son bon gré, and afterwards your horse died; now, since he did it de son bon gré, you shall not have an action…. My horse is ill, and I come to a horse-doctor for advice, and he tells me that one of his horses had a similar trouble, and that he applied a certain medicine, and
that he will do the same for my horse, and does so, and the horse
- 1 Roll. Ab. 10, pl. 5. See also to the same effect, Reg. Br. 105 b.
- * Everard v. Hopkins, 2 Bulst. 332.
- Pippin v. Sheppard, 11 Price, 400.
- Gladwell v. Steggall, 5 B.N.C. 733.
- 2 Chitty, Pl. (7 ed.) 458.
- Y.B. 19 H. VI. 49, pl. 5.