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Law School Case Brief

Hynes v. N.Y. C. R. Co. - 231 N.Y. 229, 131 N.E. 898 (1921)

Rule:

Landowners are not bound to regulate their conduct in contemplation of the presence of trespassers intruding upon private structures. Landowners are bound to regulate their conduct in contemplation of the presence of travelers upon the adjacent public ways. 

Facts:

A 16-year-old minor was swimming in the river, which was located within the right of way of the railroad company. The railroad company operated its trains by high tension wires, strung on poles and crossarms. Projecting from a bulkhead above the waters was a plank or springboard from which the minor, and others, used to dive for three years without protest. As the minor stood poised for his dive, a crossarm with electric wires fell from the railroad company's pole and struck the diver, flinging him from the shattered board and plunging him to his death below. The minor's parent, as the administratrix of his estate, filed an action against the railroad company for damages resulting from her son's death, alleging the railroad company had a duty toward the son who was swimming and diving on its property. The lower court found the minor had been a trespasser and that the railroad company owed no duty to him unless the injury was willful or wanton. The administratrix appealed.

Issue:

Was the minor a trespasser to whom the railroad company had no duty of care?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court held that the son was a bather of public waters, not a trespasser, and was entitled to a duty of reasonable care. The minor did not cease to be a bather just because he was diving from encroaching objects or engaging in the sports common among swimmers. The railroad company was bound to regulate its conduct in contemplation of the presence of travelers upon the adjacent public ways, and here, the structures and ways were so commingled that the fields were brought together. Thus, liability and duty existed. The court reversed the judgment of the lower courts and a new trial was granted.

 

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