E. Allan Farnsworth was one of the world's foremost legal scholars on contracts. His writings were standard reference in courtrooms and law schools, including Columbia Law School, where he taught for 50 years. He died Jan. 31 at age 76.
Farnsworth was born on June 30, 1928, in Providence, Rhode Island. He received a B.S. in applied mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1948, and an M.A. in physics at Yale University in 1949, but declined to go on for his Ph.D. "I wanted to do something which had a human element in it as opposed to an inanimate object," he told the Law School News in a 1968 interview.
In 1954, Farnsworth joined the Columbia faculty. He taught Commercial Transactions, Admiralty, Legal Aspects in Foreign Trade, and Contracts, which would soon claim his undivided interest and attention. He befriended Columbia Professor Edwin Patterson, a contracts expert who took the young scholar under his wing. Within 10 years, Farnsworth would publish three casebooks: Negotiable Instruments, Contracts and Commercial Law. They soon became the most adopted books in their fields. At the time of his death, Cases and Materials on Contracts, the most popular casebook on the subject in the country, was selling 10,000 copies annually, according to the book's publisher.
By the early 1970s, Farnsworth's career had begun an even more rapid ascent, when the American Law Institute (ALI) asked him to help in the creation of a definitive guide to contract law. He subsequently became the reporter for the project, known as the Restatement (Second) of Contracts. The project took more than a decade to complete.
"Professor Farnsworth's work with Professor Braucher of Harvard was an extraordinary achievement," said Lance Liebman, director of ALI. "It modernized contract doctrine and achieved a coherent statement of the laws applicable to the diverse sorts of binding agreements that Americans enter into daily."
Outside the office, Farnsworth was called upon to do important consulting work in public and private law. In recent years, he lent his expertise to questions surrounding the freezing of Iraqi assets and contractual issues involving everything from insurance payouts resulting from 9/11 to Mariah Carey's break-up with Virgin Records.
Too numerous to mention in their entirety, Farnsworth's honors included honorary doctorates from the Dickinson School of Law, the University of Paris and the University of Louvain; the Law School's Medal for Excellence; and the American Bar Association's Leonard J. Theberge Award for Private International Law.
Though ailing, Farnsworth completed his final book last year. Alleviating Mistakes: Reversal and Forgiveness for Flawed Perceptions examines the legal issues that arise when people seek to avoid the untoward consequences of an action by claiming that their perception was flawed. True to Farnsworth's sense of humor, the famous Edvard Munch painting The Scream appears on the cover.
Farnsworth is survived by his wife, three daughters and five grandchildren. His son, Edward Allan Farnsworth Jr., died in 1993.