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Combs v. L.A. R. Corp. - 29 Cal. 2d 606, 177 P.2d 293 (1947)

Rule:

In an action against a street railway corporation for injuries sustained by a passenger who was standing on the second step of a crowded streetcar when it collided with an automobile, it was proper to refuse an instruction that plaintiff's violation of a municipal ordinance prohibiting passengers from riding on the steps constituted negligence as a matter of law, where the instruction omitted the important qualification that such conduct might be excused under certain circumstances.

Facts:

A passenger boarded the step of a streetcar operated by a railway company. The car started but the passenger could not get to the platform because it was so crowded. The impact of the streetcar's collision with an automobile ripped off the steps on which the passenger was standing. The trial court denied the railway company's motion for a judgment notwithstanding the passenger's verdict in his personal injury action. On appeal, the railway company asserted that the passenger was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law because of his violation of a section of the Municipal Code of the City of Los Angeles, which made it unlawful for one to "ride upon the fenders, steps, or running board of any street car or vehicle.”

Issue:

Was the trial court correct in denying the railway company’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the passenger’s verdict even if the passenger may have been guilty of contributory negligence?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Court affirmed because the evidence amply supported the implied finding that the passenger's violation of a city ordinance against riding on a step was excusable. The Court held that the fact of whether the passenger was riding on the step was correctly left to the jury, in view of testimony that he was endeavoring to reach the platform and that the streetcar had traveled only a short distance. The Court held that the trial court properly refused the railway company's instruction that the violation barred recovery, but charged the jury to decide whether the presumption of negligence arising from the violation was overcome by evidence that the passenger reasonably thought the people in front of him would soon move up into the car.

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