MARTIN v. HERZOG By Shubham Mishra from VIT Law School
126 N.E. 814 (N.Y. 1920)
The parties involved in this case are Martin (Plaintiff) and Herzog (Defendant). The plaintiff and her husband were driving a buggy with lights off and the defendant hit the buggy with his automobile and plaintiff’s husband died in the accident. She brought an issue of negligence in the court of law and the defendant contended that the plaintiff has contributed in the negligence as they violated the statute, which requires the vehicle to use lights.
This matter was entertained by the trial court, where the court found the plaintiff guilty of violating the statute of using lights of the vehicle while using it. The plaintiff approached the appellate court, which reversed the decision of the trial court, which was subsequently confirmed by the New York court of appeal.
- Does a jury have the power to relax the duty that a traveler on the highway owes under a statute to another on the same highway?
- Is negligent conduct actionable by itself unless it is shown that such conduct was the cause of the injuries incurred?
A Jury doesn’t have the power to relax the duty of a traveler over the other since there was unexcused violation of the statute per se and the jury has to decide in accordance with the law.
The plaintiff was driving his buggy without any lights thereby violating the statute. However, this does not amount to contributory negligence since this incident happened during evening and the defendant was driving his car at the wrong side of the road, which itself is clearly negligent. The main reason was that there was no proximate connection between injury and negligence and for the establishment of contributory negligence, a proximate connection must be present.
Finally in the New York court of appeal, it was held that for holding someone liable for contributory negligence, there should be proximate connection between the injury inflicted and negligence, therefore on the basis of this reasoning, plaintiff can’t be held liable since there is no contribution of the plaintiff in negligence.
However, the trial court held the plaintiff liable for the violation of the statute, which was later reversed by appellate court.
The defendant contended that the plaintiff contributed to the negligence as he was driving the buggy without using lights, thereby violating the statute. On the other hand, the plaintiff contended that he did not contribute to the negligence since there was no proximate connection between negligence and injury caused.
The plaintiff should not be held liable for contributory negligence even though there is a violation of a particular statute because the act of plaintiff is not satisfying the essential factors to establish contributory negligence.
There was clear negligence on the part of defendant because he was driving his vehicle on the wrong side of the road, which was unlawful, per se. This incident happened during evening time and we can presume that if the defendant had not been driving on the wrong side, the accident wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
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