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Berry v. Sugar Notch Borough

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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiff was driving through the defendant borough speeding when a violent wind storm knocked over a tree that crushed the plaintiff and his car.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The plaintiff’s breach of a safety ordinance must be proximately connected to his injuries to absolve the defendant of liability.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

That his speed brought him to the place of the accident at the moment of the accident was the merest chance, and a thing which no foresight could have predicted.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

The plaintiff was a motorman employed by the Wilkes-Barre and Wyoming Valley Traction Company on its rail line running from Wilkes-Barre to the borough of Sugar Notch. Sugar Notch had an ordinance restricting the speed of cars for the rail company to eight miles per hour while laying tracks. Within the borough limits, there was a large chestnut tree. The plaintiff was driving his car in the borough in a violent wind storm, and the tree was blown down, crushing the car and injuring the plaintiff. The plaintiff was driving his car considerably above the speed limit imposed by the borough ordinance.  The parties disagree about the state of the tree before it fell.

Issue.

Is the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s injury despite the fact that the plaintiff was speeding?

Held.

Yes. The plaintiff’s speed had nothing to do with the accident. Being crushed by a falling tree is not a foreseeable result of speeding. The lower court’s judgement is affirmed.

Discussion.

The court first establishes that the fact that the plaintiff was speeding does not itself bar the plaintiff’s right to recover. The speed clearly was not the cause of the accident. The defendant tried to argue that the plaintiff’s high speed brought him under the tree at the moment it was blown down, but the court rejects this on grounds of foreseeability—the plaintiff had no reason to believe his speed would cause a tree to fall on him.


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