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Tedla v. Ellman

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

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Tedla v. Ellman

Citation. Tedla v. Ellman, 280 N.Y. 124 (N.Y. 1939)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Anna Tedla and her brother, John Bachek (Plaintiffs) were walking along a road to the right of the center-line in violation of a traffic statute, when they were struck by a passing automobile, operated by Ellman (Defendant). A jury found that the accident was due solely to the negligence of the Defendant. Appellant maintained that Appellees were guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law because of their violation of the statute.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Where a statutory general rule of conduct fixes no definite standard of care to protect life, physical safety or property but merely codifies or supplements a common-law rule (always subject to limitations and exceptions); or when the statutory rule of conduct regulates conflicting rights and obligations in a manner calculated to promote public convenience and safety, then the statute, in the absence of clear language to the contrary, does negate the limitations and exceptions which judicial decisions have attached to the common-law duty. It should not be construed as an inflexible command that the general rule of conduct intended to prevent accidents must be followed even under conditions when observance might cause accidents.


While walking along a highway, Plaintiffs were struck by a passing automobile, operated by the Defendant. Tedla was injured and Bachek was killed. Because there was significantly less traffic there, Plaintiffs were walking to the right of the centerline of the road at the time of the accident. This was a violation of a state statute.


Were Tedla and her brother guilty of contributory negligence?


Court affirmed judgment, when Plaintiffs’ failure to observe a statutory rule of the road did not constitute contributory negligence as a matter of law.


The court in Tedla appears to promote a flexibility of statutory interpretation where “The general duty is established by the statute, and deviation from it without good cause is a wrong and the wrongdoer is responsible for the damages resulting from his wrong.” Nevertheless, the court opined that it would contravene common sense and the general welfare to “assume reasonably that the Legislature intended that a statute enacted for the preservation of the life and limb of pedestrians must be observed when observance would subject them to more imminent danger.”

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