The owner of a slave had a moral obligation to supply the slave's wants.

The owner could not absolve himself from this responsibility by being absent from the slave, unless he provided someone to stand in the relation of master to slave.

The hirer was responsible for the slave's medical care, but if the hirer were absent the owner as well as the hirer could be responsible.

Facts of the Case

A hired slave became ill when the hirer was not available. A physician treated the slave and billed the owner. The Mobile County Court ruled that the owner was not liable unless he had requested the treatment.

The Court's Decision

Judge John J. Ormond wrote the decision of the Alabama Supreme Court. He noted that the court had ruled in Meeker v. Childress that the hirer had responsibility for payment of medical services, unless otherwise stipulated, but Ormond confined that principle to cases when the hirer retained possession. In this case, the hirer had not retained possession, so the master still had some responsibility. Likewise, the hirer had some responsibility, even though the slave was not in his possession. Neither hirer nor owner could be absolved fully because of "the moral and legal obligation" to supply the slave's wants, which resembled the obligation "of a father to support his children." The latter principle had been established in Fisher and Johnson v. Campbell (9 Porter 210). Consequently, Ormond reversed the judgement of the lower court and remanded the case.

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