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Martin v. Herzog - 176 A.D. 614, 163 N.Y.S. 189 (App. Div. 1917)

Rule:

In an action for negligence, it is error for the court to refuse to charge that the failure to have a light on the plaintiff's vehicle is prima facie evidence of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff.  The absence of the light on the plaintiff’s vehicle is under the circumstances a contributory cause because the statute intended that such a light should be a signal to ensure the protection of others.

Facts:

Martin sued Herzog to recover damages for her husband’s death in a collision between their horse-drawn wagon and Herzog’s automobile. Martin testified that they saw Herzog’s car when it was some distance away because it had lights, but their horse-drawn wagon did not have a light on it as required by the Highway Law. The jury was allowed to consider the default as lightly or gravely as it would. Herzog filed a motion for new trial. The trial court awarded damages to Martin and denied Herzog's motion for new trial. Herzog appealed.

Issue:

Is the absence of light on a plaintiff’s horse-drawn vehicle a prima facie evidence of contributory negligence?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court held that the absence of light on the horse-drawn wagon was a prima facie evidence of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff for the statute intended that such a light should be a signal to aid a person operating a motor vehicle "turn the same to the right of the center of such highway so as to pass without interference." Thus, the court reversed the decision of the trial court awarding judgment to the plaintiff in her wrongful death action and granted a new trial.

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