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Martin v. Herzog

Citation. 126 N.E. 814 (N.Y. 1920)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Martin (Plaintiff) drove a buggy without headlights on a dark highway. There was a statute requiring headlights. Herzog (Defendant), driving a car, rounded a curve on the highway in the other direction and crashed into Plaintiff, killing the husband.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Where a statute is in place for the protection of others, failure to follow this statute is prima facie evidence of negligence (breach).


The Martin couple (Plaintiff) were driving their buggy without headlights along a dark highway. There was a statute requiring headlights. Herzog (Defendant) was driving a car in the opposite direction. The two vehicles came around a curve at the same time. Defendant crossed over the centerline and hit Plaintiff, killing the husband and injuring the wife.

The trial court instructed the jury that they were allowed to consider the buggy’s lack of headlights in determining if Plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence, refusing Defendant’s request to consider this as prima facie evidence of negligence.


Did the trial court err in failing to instruct the jury that breaking the headlights statute was prima facie evidence of contributory negligence?


Yes, the Court held that the trial court erred when it declined to instruct the jury that breaking this statute was prima facieevidence of contributory negligence. The Court affirmed the order for a new trial made by the Appellate Division.


  • The Court says the whole purpose of this headlights statute is for protection of people on the highway.
  • Jurors do not have the power to relax the requirements of such a statute in determining negligence (breach).
  • The Court clarifies that while failing to follow this statute should be considered prima facie evidence of negligence (breach), there are still open questions of the actual cause of the accident that need to be resolved by a jury before deciding whether Plaintiff can still receive damages.

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