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Pokora v. Wabash Ry. Co

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Pokora v. Wabash Ry. Co
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    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff was killed while attempting to cross Wabash Ry. Co.’s (Defendant’s) four railroad tracks. Plaintiff did not get out of his vehicle to obtain a better view as required by the opinion in Baltimore & Ohio R.R. v. Goodman.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. To get out of a vehicle is uncommon precaution, as everyday experience informs us. The actions of a plaintiff depend on the situation and the circumstances, and it is up to the jury to decide whether a particular course of action was reasonable.

    Facts. Defendant had four railroad tracks. Plaintiff, in his vehicle, attempted to cross the tracks. Plaintiff could not see the main track because a boxcar on the first track obstructed his view. Plaintiff stopped and listened for a bell or whistle but did not hear either. Plaintiff did not get out of his vehicle to obtain a better view as the opinion in Baltimore & Ohio R.R. v. Goodman seemed to require. The trial court directed a verdict for Defendant on its finding that Plaintiff had been contributory negligent. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Is there a duty for Plaintiff to stop, exit the vehicle, look and listen before crossing a railroad track?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    * Courts declare standards of prudent conduct at times, but they are taken over by the facts of life. To get out of a vehicle is an uncommon precaution, as everyday experience informs us. Besides being uncommon it is very futile and sometimes dangerous. A train traveling at a speed of thirty miles per hour will cover a quarter of a mile in 30 seconds. Instead of helping himself by getting out, Plaintiff might do better to press forward. A train at rest at a station could be moving in the time it takes Plaintiff to return to his vehicle.
    * Defendant did not show whether there was a locomotive at the forward end, or whether the cars were so few that a locomotive could be seen. If Plaintiff was to leave his vehicle near the curb, there was even stronger reason to believe that the space covered in going back and forth would make his observations worthless.
    * To get out of the train to look and listen for oncoming trains is not natural behavior in its customary form, but a rule artificially developed and imposed. Because there is no guide of customary conduct, the safeguards and judgment of Plaintiff is for the jury to decide and not the judge.

    Discussion. The jury gets to decide whether or not Plaintiff is required to get out of his vehicle and look for trains. There is no standard requiring that Plaintiff always get out and look and listen for a train each time he comes upon a track, because that is uncommon conduct.


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