If a slave hireling contract specified only the duration of the term and the price, then the hirer had an implied obligation to provide food, clothing, and medical treatment.
If the contract stipulated that the hirer provide food and clothing, but failed the mention medical treatment, the presumption was that the omission of medical treatment had been intentional.
Facts of the Case
On January 21, 1848, William Knox hired slave William from John R. Drish, a resident of Tuscaloosa, for the remainder of the year at the rate of $600 per annum. Knox agreed to provide food and clothing for William, but the contract made no mention of medical expenses. During the spring and summer of 1848, William was "extremely ill with brain fever" and Drs. Sims and Jones provided medical treatment. Knox did not request the treatment, but he knew that it was being provided. Montgomery County Circuit Court charged the jury that, if they believed the evidence, then Knox owed nothing to Sims and Jones.
Sims' and Jones' Argument
Before the Alabama Surpeme Court, Sims and Jones argued that the hirer was responsible for medical services unless the contract explicitly stated otherwise. Furthermore, the court should have charged the jury that Knox knew the medical services were being rendered.
Knox argued that the contract had not called for him to provide medical services and he had not requested that Sims and Jones do so.
The Court's Opinion
Chief Justice E.S. Dargan wrote the opinion of the Alabama Supreme Court. He noted that the hirer was responsible for medical treatment, food, and clothing, unless the contract stipulated otherwise. In this case, however, the contract had stipulated food and clothing, but not medical treatment. This could be construed only as an effort to limit the hirer's liability, so Knox bore no responsibility. Who, then, did? Previous court decisions had indicated that someone must stand in the relationship of master to the slave, so in this instance that had to be Drish, the owner.
Go to the AU Archives and
Manuscripts Department Homepage