Law School Case Brief
Alderman v. Balt. & O. R. Co. - 113 F. Supp. 881 (S.D. W. Va. 1953)
The United States Supreme Court has held that a carrier may contract against liability for negligent injury to one who accepts a free pass, but that for reasons of public policy it cannot relieve itself of liability for wilful or wanton acts.
Plaintiff, a citizen of West Virginia, was travelling on a trip pass aboard defendant’s train; the trip pass enabled her free transportation from Flatwoods, West Virginia, to Morgantown, West Virginia, and return. Printed on the trip pass was a stipulation that in consideration of the issuance of the free pass, the passenger will assume all risk of personal injury and loss of or damage to property from whatever causes, thereby, releasing the defendant company from any liability therefor. On February 14, 1952, plaintiff sustained injuries as a result of the derailment of one of defendant’s trains near Adrian, West Virginia. Plaintiff sued to recover damages from the defendant. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the plaintiff failed to state a cause of willful or wanton conduct. On the other hand, the plaintiff asserted that defendant willfully injured her as it used old and obsolescent rails in its tracks, knowing that the use of these rails made derailments reasonably probable.
Was defendant guilty of willful or wanton conduct?
The court held that in order that one may be held guilty of wilful or wanton conduct, it must be shown that he was conscious of his conduct, and conscious, from his knowledge of existing conditions, that injury would likely or probably result from his conduct, and that with reckless indifference to consequences he consciously and intentionally did some wrongful act or omitted some known duty which produced the injurious result. The court held that the complaint failed to state sufficient facts to substantiate a charge of wilfulness, as that term was defined by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. To establish wilfulness it would be necessary to charge that defendant knew of this particular defect in the rail; that the defect would probably result in a break in the rail if the train were run over it, causing a derailment of the train; and that defendant, with this knowledge of existing conditions, and the likelihood or probability of an injury resulting from its conduct, intentionally drove its train over the defective rail with an indifference to the consequences. The undenied affidavits of defendant showed clearly that plaintiff could not establish these facts.
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