Liability for necessaries, With regard to minor’s liability for necessaries supplied to him the Privy Council in Mohiri Bibee Verses Dharam Das Ghose observed that, “It is clear from the Act that the (minor) is not to be liable even for necessaries, and that no demand in respect thereof is enforceable against him by law, though a Statutory claim is created against his property”. Section 68 of the Act provides, “If a person incapable of entering into a contract, or any one whom he is legally bound to support, is supplied by another person ‘with necessaries suited to his condition in life, the person who has furnished such supplies is entitled to be reimbursed from the property of such incapable person”.
Thus a minor is not personally liable even for necessaries. The supplier can claim reimbursement out of property of the minor for necessaries supplied to an incapable person. Therefore a minor cannot be declared insolvent.
The term “necessaries” in the first place include those things without which an individual cannot reasonably exist, for example food, clothing and lodging. It also includes all such things which can reasonably be considered as necessaries in the class of society of which the minor belongs. Thus it is to be determined with reference to fortune and circumstances of the particular minor. Thus “necessaries” for this purpose mean goods suitable to the condition in life of the minor and to his actual requirement at the time of the sale and delivery. It was held in Nash Verses Inman, that in an action against an infant for necessaries, the onus is on the plaintiff to prove, not only that the goods were suitable to the condition in life for the infant, but also that he was not sufficiently supplied with the goods of that class at the time of sale and delivery. In this case plaintiff sued the defendant for £ 145 for clothes supplied to him when he was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. The defendant, who was a minor at the time of sale and delivery, was the son of an architect of good position with a town house and a country establishment. The clothes supplied included eleven fancy waistcoats. The minor’s father was called and gave evidence that his son was amply supplied with proper clothes according to his position at the time of the sale. The action failed as the minor was amply supplied with proper clothes suited to his position at the time of sale. In Chappel Verses Cooper, it was held that the funeral expenses of the defendant’s husband were necessaries for the infant widow.
Minor’s agreement being void ab initio, he cannot therefore, as a general rule, be asked to pay for the services rendered or goods supplied to him. Section 68, however, permits reimbursement to a person, who supplies “‘necessaries” to a minor or a lunatic person. Such duty to reimburse is not there because of any valid contract with the minor, etc. but because the law recognises this to be a ‘quasi-contractual’ obligation (similarly recognized in English law). Section 68 permits reimbursement if,
A is entitled to be reimbursed from B’s property. For reimbursement no personal action can lie against the minor, etc., but reimbursement is permitted from the property or estate of such incapable person.
Necessaries does not mean bare necessities of life (that is food, cloth, shelter, etc.), but means such things as may be necessary to maintain a person ‘according to his conditions in life’ (that is his status and requirements). Thus it is to be determined with reference to fortune and circumstances of the particular minor. As the proper cultivation of the mind is as expedient as the support of the body, instruction in art or trade, or intellectual, moral and religious education may be necessary also. Articles of mere luxury are always excluded, though luxurious articles of utility are in some cases allowed. Further, what are ‘necessaries’ may depend upon the status of a person, and also his requirements at the time of actual delivery of the goods [Chappel Verses Cooper]. To render an infant’s estate liable for necessaries, two conditions must be satisfied (the onus is on the plaintiff to prove them), (1) the contract must be for goods reasonably necessary for his support in his station in life, and (2) he must not have already a sufficient supply of these necessaries at the time of sale and delivery [Nash Verses Inman]. In this case, a minor who was amply supplied with proper clothes according to his position, was supplied by the plaintiff with a number of dresses, including fancy waist coats. Held, that the plaintiff cannot recover price of dresses. However, in Peters Verses Fleming, it was observed that an undergraduate at a college should have a watch.
The following have been held to be ‘necessaries’,
But where a minor is engaged in trade, contracts entered into by him for trading purposes are not for necessaries and are not binding on him. It may be noted that the necessaries may be supplied to someone whom the minor is legally bound to support, such as his wife and children. Ornamental articles and diamonds are usually not considered necessaries even if the minor moves in a high society, unless the articles are especially necessary for the minor [Ryder Verses Wombell]. Further, certain things like earrings for a male, spectacles for a blind person, or a wild animal, cannot be considered as necessaries.
The liability does not depend upon the minor’s consent. It arises because the necessaries have been supplied to him and is, therefore, quasi-contractual in nature. The real foundation is an obligation, which the law imposes on the infant to make a fair payment in respect of needs satisfied. In other words, the obligation arises re and not consensu. Further, the liability is not personal, but is only that of the minor’s estate. Thus it has a little contractual element. Another view is that the liability is contractual. A contract for necessaries is just one of those categories of contracts which the minor is permitted to make.