ProfessorMelissa A. Hale
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary.
Adams (Plaintiff), a twelve year-old boy, carried a wire across a railroad bridge that was several feet above trolley wires. His wire dangled over the bridge and contacted the trolley wire, causing Plaintiff to be burned. He sued Bullock (Defendant), the trolley system operator.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A party is not negligent where he has taken reasonable precautions to avoid foreseeable dangers.
Defendant operated a trolley system that was powered by overhead wires. At one point in the system, a railroad bridge crossed over the trolley wires. The bridge had an eighteen-inch wide wall on each side and the bridge was over four and a half feet higher than the trolley wires. Plaintiff, a twelve year-old boy, was crossing the bridge while carrying an eight foot wire. The boy’s wire dangled over the edge of the bridge and hit the trolley wires, causing a shock and resulting burns to Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued Defendant, alleging negligence. Plaintiff prevailed at trial and in the appellate court. Defendant appealed to the New York Court of Appeals.
Is a party considered negligent if he has taken reasonable precautions to avoid foreseeable dangers?
(Cardozo, J.) No. A party is not negligent where he has taken reasonable precautions to avoid foreseeable dangers. Defendant placed the trolley wires well below the railroad bridge and out of reach of any persons crossing that bridge. Defendant could not have foreseen the accident that caused Plaintiff’s injuries and so could not have known to put extra safety measures in place to prevent it. Trolley wires cannot be insulated and so the only way to avoid an accident such as this one is to put the wires underground. Defendant had no duty to take such measures. Reversed.
There is no formula that will tell a party the exact amount of care they must take in order to prevent liability for negligence. Different standards of care apply to different activities. This case demonstrates the rule that a party will not ordinarily be required to act as an insurer for all people with whom his activities bring him into contact. Some accidents are unforeseeable and do not necessarily indicate negligence on a party’s part.