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New York Central R.R. v. Grimstad

Citation. 264 F. 334, 1920 U.S. App. 1261.
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff drowned when he fell into the water from the deck of a barge. Plaintiff sued Defendant, the barge owner, for negligence in failing to equip the barge with life-preserving jackets.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

To be liable for negligence the cause of the accident must be more than pure conjecture and speculation. It must be the cause in fact of the injury.


Plaintiff was on a barge when a tugboat bumped it. Plaintiff’s wife felt the bump and came out from the cabin. She discovered her husband (Plaintiff) in the water about ten feet from the barge, holding up his hands out of the water. Plaintiff did not know how to swim. Wife immediately ran back to the cabin for a small line, and when she returned with the line, Plaintiff had disappeared. Plaintiff drowned. Plaintiff’s estate brought an action against the owner of the barge (Defendant), claiming that Defendant was negligent in its failure to equip the barge with life preservers. The trial court retuned a verdict for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.


If Defendant’s act is not a direct cause in fact of the accident, but merely a matter of speculation, is it liable to Plaintiff for negligence?


No. Judgment reversed.
* The proximate cause of Plaintiff’s death was his falling into the water. There is no testimony in the record that this happened because of the negligent act of Plaintiff or Defendant. Rather, the negligence alleged is based on Defendant’s failure to equip the boat with life preserving jackets. Plaintiff claims that Defendant’s failure to equip the barge with life-preserving jackets was the cause of Plaintiff’s drowning.
* However, there was no evidence to show that Plaintiff drowned because he did not know how to swim, or anything to show that, if there had been a life-preserving jacket on board, the Plaintiff’s wife would have got it in time, or that Plaintiff would have grabbed it, or that it would have prevented Plaintiff from drowning. The jury decided the issue of causation with pure conjecture and speculation.
* The trial court erred in denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.


The cause of his death was falling in the water and not being able to swim. There is no evidence presented by Plaintiff that the failure to equip a barge with life preserving jackets would have caused Plaintiff’s death.

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