Hart v. Geysel

Supreme Court of Washington, 1930.

159 Wash. 632, 294 P. 570.

Prosser, p. 99-100


Facts: Two men fought in a prize fight.  One was killed in the course of the fight.  His estate sued the other fighter.  The action was dismissed and the plaintiff appealed.


Issue: Can an action for wrongful death be brought when both parties consented to the fight even though it was unlawful?


Rule: Someone who engages in prize fighting in Washington and is injured should not be able to recover damages.


Analysis: The court considers and rejects two rules for liability arising from injuries in a fight.  The “majority rule” says that both parties should be liable to each other even though they consented to the fight.  The “minority rule” says that the combat is unlawful and thus neither party can recover damages except in the case of “excessive force or malicious intent”.  The court decides that neither rule holds because the fight was not entered into in anger nor was there malicious intent to cause serious injury.  The court settles on its own rule, and reasons that you don’t need to reward the guy that got hurt more in the fight to enforce the criminal statute against prize fighting.


Conclusion: The court affirmed the verdict of the trial court.


Notes and Questions


1.     So there are pros and cons to invalidating the plaintiff’s consent due to the defendant committing a crime.

2.     In each of the following cases, did the defendant’s conduct violate a statute that is supposed to protect the class of people to which the plaintiff belongs?

A.   Statutory rape laws are certainly designed to protect 15-year-olds.  Therefore, the consent is no good.  An adult woman has no such protection in the criminal law.

B.    Under the Hudson rule mentioned, it would seem the family could sue Kevorkian if he was committing a crime in the state where the suicide occurred; the family’s consent would be negated.  I guess Kevorkian just has to trust that the family won’t do that.

C.   I guess this is a moot point now.  The idea, however, is that in many jurisdictions, you cannot consent to something that’s illegal.

3.     Okay!


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