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Gift v. Palmer

    Brief Fact Summary. The Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) granted a compulsory nonsuit in favor of Palmer (Defendant), after Robert Gift (Plaintiff) sought recovery from Defendant for injuries sustained when he was struck by Defendant’s car. The court denied Plaintiff’s Motions to Remove the Nonsuit, and entered a final judgment. Plaintiff sought review.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The mere happening of an accident is not evidence of negligence. Plaintiff must prove by a fair preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was negligent and that his negligence was the proximate cause of the accident. Negligence is the want of due care which a reasonable man would exercise under the circumstances. Conduct is negligent only if the harmful consequences thereof could reasonably have been foreseen and prevented by the exercise of reasonable care.

    Facts. Defendant was driving east along Mt. Oliver Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There was no direct evidence of how the accident (which happened in the middle of the block) occurred. Five minutes prior, a neighbor, who was a block away, Plaintiff, age 3, and his sister Jeanne were sitting on their front doorstep playing. Plaintiff proffered no eyewitness testimony or other evidence.

    Issue. Should the lower court have determined a triable issue of fact in connection with an allegation of negligence on the part of the Defendant?

    Held. No negligence was proved.

    Discussion. The Gift v. Palmer court provides a concise maxim with regard to the issue of negligence: “Conduct is negligent only if the harmful consequences thereof could reasonably have been foreseen and prevented by the exercise of reasonable care.” Further, the court makes explicit that in order to maintain an action for negligence a plaintiff must provide reasonable proof: “A verdict cannot be supported on the basis of mere speculation or conjecture. Proof of negligence may be furnished by the circumstances themselves and it is not essential to have eyewitness testimony, but where the circumstantial evidence is offered because direct proof is not available it must provide as the only reasonable inference the conclusion that the accident was caused by the negligence of the defendant.” Thus, mere inference is insufficient and the court sustained the lower court’s decision.


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