The hirer bore the loss if a slave died during the term, unless the contract stipulated otherwise, such as through a warranty of soundness, or unless the hirer demonstrated that the owner concealed defects.

Facts of the Case

On February 13, 1834, Harvey Dillahunty and Amos Jarman hired three male slaves--Dick Lockhart, Willis, and Godfrey--from Abraham Ricks, administrator of the Isaac Ricks estate. Willis died five or six weeks later. The case came before Lauderdale County Circuit Court, where Dillahunty proved that Willis had been ill a few days after the hiring and continued so until his death. He failed to demonstrate that the slave had been unsound at the time of the hire or that there had been a warranty of soundness. The court charged the jury that to sustain fraud Ricks must have known of the slave's illness at the time of the hiring and concealed it from Dillahunty. The jury was further charged that Dillahunty could recover if he demonstrated that Willis had no value, even though Ricks had neither made a warranty nor concealed any defects. In other words, a sound price implied a warranty of soundness.

The Court's Decision

Chief Justice Henry W. Collier wrote the opinion of the Alabama Supreme Court. He agreed with the lower court on the charge of fraud, but reversed the decision because of the second charge. Although in some jurisdictions a sound price implied a warranty of soundness, Collier disagreed with this notion. He wrote that "whatever commendation" it had "from the moralist," derived no support "from the English common law."

Go to the AU Archives and Manuscripts Department Homepage