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Tedla v. Ellman

Citation. 19 N.E.2d 987 (1939)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiff and her brother were walking on the highway when they were struck by the defendant’s car. They were walking on the right side of the highway, rather than on the left as dictated by a statute.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When adherence to a statute would defeat the overall purpose of the statute, the person in violation of the statute is not considered to be acting negligently.


Plaintiff and her brother John, a deaf-mute, were walking along Sunrise Highway wheeling strollers full of junk when they were struck by a passing car operated by the defendant. The plaintiff was injured and John was killed. The plaintiff’s occupation was collecting and selling junk, which she often picked up at the incinerator in Islip. It was 6pm in December when the accident occurred, so it was already dark, but John had a light. There are no footpaths on the highway, so the plaintiff was walking on the road itself, which is not unlawful as long as the pedestrian is exercising reasonable care. That being said, there existed a statute that required pedestrians on roadways to walk on the lefthand side of the road facing traffic, which the plaintiff and her brother did not do—instead, they were walking with traffic on the righthand side of the road in violation of the statute.


Did the plaintiff’s disregard for the statute bar her from recovery under the theory of contributory negligence?


No. The plaintiff was acting reasonably in the interest of safety, and following the statute would have been unsafe, The trial court judgement is affirmed.


Traffic laws used to be dictated by custom and practice, but now the legislature has stepped in to formulate these rules. Yet, custom and common sense has always dictated that pedestrians walk along the righthand side of a road for the sake of safety and avoiding oncoming traffic. General prudence dictates that the plaintiff would walk where the least amount of traffic was and where it was the safest to the reasonable person. It is unreasonable to assume that the legislature would want prudent individuals, even those disregarding the statute, to be exposed to negligence liability for acting in the safest manner. Legislation is meant to add extra safeguards, not to make people less safe.

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