A minor is responsible for his torts. If in connection with some voidable contract made by him he commits a wilful and independent tort, he may be held liable for the damages caused by the tort, but if the wrong alleged consists in a mere breach of his contract, he cannot be rendered liable by calling his default a tort.
A minor is liable for his torts; his minority is no protection. If, for instance, he deliberately breaks a window, a judgment may be had against him for the damages caused. Cases arise in which a minor commits a wrong tortious in its nature, about the time of or in connection with a contract made by him, and when sued in tort responds that his act was at most a mere breach of contract and not a tort. Thus, if he should hire a horse to drive to an adjoining town and in his inexperience should drive it so immoderately as to injure it, the injury not being wilful, he can reply if sued in tort for negligence or conversion, that the other party is attempting to deprive him of a defense to a charge of breach of contract, by simply calling his breach a tort, and this cannot be permitted. But if a minor takes advantage of a contract to commit a wilful tort he is liable notwithstanding he would not have been able to commit it if he had not entered into the contract, as where he maliciously beats a horse hired by him, or drives it further than his contract permitted.18 Also if in order to hire the horse he misrepresented himself to be of age, he has committed the tort of deceit and is liable.19
17. Rubin v. Strandberg. 288 111. 64.
18. Towne v. Wiley, 23 Vt. 355.
19. Fitts v. Hall, 9 N. H. 441.
C. Other Parties Under Disability.
By the common law a married woman had no capacity to contract even for her necessaries, although she had an implied authority to bind her husband for her necessaries, which he could not by any act on his part deprive her of. By modern statutes, her disability to contract has been largely removed.
An unmarried woman, or feme sole, had capacity to contract, but a married woman had no power to contract. Courts of equity, it is true, allowed property to be settled upon her for her sole use and developed the doctrine that such separate estate could be charged with debts contracted by her, but she could not be sued personally. By modern statutes, married women may contract freely.
Contracts by an insane person, except for his necessaries, are voidable if he restore the consideration; or in many jurisdictions by statute if he has been legally declared insane and a conservator appointed, his contracts are voidable at all events, or void.
The law as to contracts with insane persons varies somewhat in the different states. Statutes quite generally govern the matter. Many of these declare that the contracts of an insane person, whose insanity has been adjudged by the law, and is a matter of record, and over whom a conservator or guardian has been appointed, are voidable at the option of the insane person or such conservator, but are fully binding on the other. Before such adjudication, a contract with an insane person is voidable by the insane person, unless it is for necessaries. If the other person knew of the insanity he is only entitled to such of the consideration as the insane person has not parted with. But if the insanity was not known, the insane person on avoidance must place the other party in statu quo.
A drunken person is liable upon his contract unless the drunkenness is so great as to drown reason, judgment, and memory, or unless he was made drunk that he might be imposed upon.
The defense of drunkenness is not regarded with favor, unless it has induced a temporary insanity which obscures reason, judgment, and memory, or unless it was produced as a part of a scheme to defraud on the part of the other party.20
An alien has power to contract when his country is at peace with this country. But during hostilities he may not enter into any contract with citizens of this country. Rights acquired prior to the declaration of war are suspended, but not annulled, and may be enforced in our courts when peace is resumed. An alien enemy may be sued in our courts and when sued may make his defense.
Alien enemy acts are passed in time of war specifically governing the rights and disabilities of alien enemies.
A corporation's capacity to contract is determined by its charter. Generally speaking it may make contracts that are fairly intended to further its legitimate corporate purposes.
A full discussion of the capacity of a corporation to contract would be out of place here. That must be sought in some treatise upon the law of corporations. See the Law of Corporations in this series. We may say generally that a corporation has the power to make such contracts as reasonably tend to the furtherance of its legitimate business, but no others.
20. Martin v. Harsh, 231 111. 384.