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Erie Railroad Co. v. Stewart

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The Sixth Circuit United States Court of Appeals held that a company who creates an expectation of a specific security measure by providing a person who warns oncoming traffic about oncoming trains and the train watchman was absent from his post which resulted in an injury is liable for negligence. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When a company voluntarily provides security measures to the public and the company fails to continuously provide those security measures which results in an injury, but if the voluntarily provided security measures had been in place continuously they would have prevented the injury then the company can be held liable for negligence. 

    Facts.

    Stewart (Plaintiff) worked for the East Ohio Gas Company. While riding as passenger in a vehicle, he approached a railroad crossing owned by Erie Railroad Co. (Defendant). The Defendant provided to the public a train watchman to alert oncoming vehicles of an oncoming train to prevent an accident. While at the intersection, defendant failed to have a train watchman at the intersection. As a result, plaintiff and his co-workers were struck by an oncoming train and suffered injuries. Plaintiff brought suit under a theory of negligence. Trial court ruled in favor of Plaintiff. Defendant appeals. 

    Issue.

    When a company provides a security measure in which the public relies on, and the company fails to continuously provide that measure, can an injured party as a result of the absent security measure, sue for negligence. 

    Held.

    Yes. The Court notes that although the company was not legally required to provide a watchman, when the company did they created a public duty and by failing to continuously provide the security measure, if an injury were to occur as a result the company is liable. 

    Concurrence.

    The concurring opinion stresses that it should not matter whether the public relies on the security measure. Instead, he believes all railroad companies who operate in public space at a high rate of speed should have a duty to warn the public of oncoming trains. In essence, the public does not need to rely on this security measure but the duty is already created by operating trains in public spaces. 

    Discussion.

    The Majority stresses the need for the public to rely upon the security measure provided by the railroad company. In essence, they need to have knowledge of the watchman before the accident takes place in order to hold the train company liable. 


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