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Law School Case Brief

Barker v. Philadelphia - 134 F. Supp. 231 (E.D. Pa. 1955)


Under Pennsylvania law a defendant who has failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances cannot escape liability for damage upon the ground that he could not have foreseen the particular results of his negligent act. Therefore, it is no defense for the City to say that the driver, who carelessly drove over a piece of paper which for reasons of safety he intended to avoid, did not foresee that a child was under the paper. To allow such a defense would exculpate negligent persons from liability for all but deliberate or wantonly malicious acts.


This action was instituted by Dolores Barker, administratrix of the estate of Robert P. Ebbecke, deceased, to recover damages under the Wrongful Death, 12 P.S. §§ 1601 et seq., and Survival Statutes of Pennsylvania, 20 P.S. ch. 3 Appendix, § 771, for the death of Robert P. Ebbecke, a minor.  Plaintiff alleged that Robert's death resulted from the negligent operation of one of the City of Philadelphia's trash trucks. The evidence showed that Robert and another little boy were playing "opening envelopes" under this huge piece of paper and that the boys were not sitting absolutely still when the trash truck driver ran over them, crushing Robert. The jury came out with a verdict in favor of the estate and the parents of the deceased minor. Defendant filed a motion to set aside the verdicts.


Should a prudent or reasonably cautious person have foreseen that the alleged negligent act in operating the trash truck would result in the injury sustained?




The Court held that there was negligence when the driver attempted to avoid the paper and failed to do so, and, as a matter of law, the verdicts of the jury should not be disturbed. Moreover, the driver saw this piece of paper and noticed that it was high enough for a little child to be underneath. He then ran over the very piece of paper that he had admitted was unsafe to drive over. The evidence in the case amply supports the jury's verdict that the driver of the truck under these particular circumstances was careless and that his careless act resulted in Robert's death.

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