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Law School Case Brief

Martin v. Herzog - 228 N.Y. 164, 126 N.E. 814 (1920)

Rule:

The unexcused omission of the statutory signals is more than some evidence of negligence. It is negligence in itself. Lights are intended for the guidance and protection of other travelers on the highway. N.Y. High. Law, § 329a. To omit, willfully or heedlessly, the safeguards prescribed by law for the benefit of another that he may be preserved in life or limb, is to fall short of the standard of diligence to which those who live in organized society are under a duty to conform.

Facts:

Plaintiff and her husband were traveling by buggy at night. Defendant was driving a car, rounded a curve, and approached the buggy from the opposite direction. When defendant's car hit the buggy, plaintiff and her husband were thrown to the ground. Plaintiff's husband was killed in the collision. Plaintiff sued to recover damages for injuries that resulted in death. At trial, court refused defendant's requested ruling that absence of statutorily required lights on plaintiff's vehicle was prima facie evidence of contributory negligence.

Issue:

Was the unexcused omission of statutory signals negligence?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the court held that unexcused omission of statutory signals was more than some evidence of negligence. It was negligence itself. The court further determined that evidence of a collision that occurred more that an hour after sundown between a car and an unseen buggy that proceeded without lights was evidence from which a causal connection was inferred between the collision and lack of signals.

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