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Law School Case Brief

Pinkley v. Chicago & E. I. R. Co. - 246 Ill. 370 (Il. 1910)


The principle is, damages which are recoverable for negligence must be such as are the natural and reasonable results of defendant's acts, and the consequences must be such as in the ordinary course of things would flow from the acts and could be reasonably anticipated as a result thereof. Proximate damages are such as are the ordinary and natural results of the omission or commission of acts of negligence and such as are usual and might have been reasonably expected. Remote damages are such as are the unusual and unexpected result not reasonably to be anticipated from an accidental or unusual combination of circumstances, a result beyond and over which the negligent party has no control. The law regards only the direct and proximate results of negligent acts as creating a liability against a defendant.


Plaintiff Samuel A. Pinkley worked for defendant Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad Company ("Railroad") as a laborer. Pinkley received a car-load of green yellow-pine piling, freshly treated with creosote. The Railroad was aware of the dangers posed by handling piling treated with fresh creosote. Through its foreman, Pinkley alleged, the Railroad negligently and carelessly ordered him and his co-workers unload the piling from the car with their hands and with cant hooks. Pinkley had no knowledge of the danger, and in the exercise of ordinary care, worked with the piling as instructed. Pinkley was poisoned by creosote and suffered permanent injuries. Pinkley  thereafter filed a lawsuit in Illinois state court against the Railroad seeking to recover damages for the personal injuries he sustained. After trial, a jury rendered a verdict finding the Railroad guilty and fixing Pinkley's damages at $600. The Railroad filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. The trial court thereafter rendered judgment on the verdict. The Railroad appealed, and the appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The Railroad was granted a certificate of importance and sought review.


Was Pinkley entitled to recover for the Railroad's alleged negligence?




The state supreme court reversed the appellate court's decision and remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial. The negligent act complained of was the foreman's act of directing Pinkley to unload the piling from the car with his hands and with cant hooks. In view of Pinkley's allegations, that act could only be negligent upon proof that: (1) the timbers' creosote treatment was poisonous and liable to injure anyone who handled them; (2) the railroad knew, or by exercising ordinary diligence might have known, that it was poisonous and capable of producing injury, and; (3) Pinkley did not know that it was poisonous and likely to injure him. The court ruled that record failed to establish any duty owing by Railroad to warn Pinkley that the substance with which the timbers had been treated was liable to blister the skin, cause the skin to peel off and produce a burning sensation, and thus for Pinkley could not recover such injuries. The evidence established that both the Railroad and Pinkley knew that the creosote was a skin irritant that burned; however, there was no evidence that either of them knew more than a temporary irritation might result. The trial court erred when it denied the Railroad's offers for a jury instruction directing a verdict for the Railroad.

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