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Whether a legal duty exists is a question of law and is determined by reference to whether the parties stood in such a relationship to each other that the law imposes an obligation on one to act for the protection of the other. Where the law does not impose a duty, one will not generally be created by a defendant's rules or internal guidelines. Rather, it is the law which, in the end, must say what is legally required.
A passenger told the railroad's conductor that the deceased was lying face down on the floor of the railroad's unmanned train station. The conductor reported this information to his supervisor, who relayed the information to the railroad's police dispatcher, who contacted the patrolman on duty. The dispatcher then contacted the Chicago police department. Nearly five hours passed before anyone arrived to assist the deceased. The patrolman found the deceased lying on a bench and determined that he was intoxicated. The police subsequently took the deceased to a hospital, where he eventually died. The plaintiff estate administrator instituted a wrongful death action against defendant railroad. The defendant argued that the deceased was a trespasser on its property, but the trial judge ruled that the issue was irrelevant and instructed the jury that the railroad had a duty to exercise ordinary care for the deceased's safety. The lower appellate court held, inter alia, that the jury had been properly instructed. The present appeal followed.
Was the jury properly instructed as to the railroad's duty if the deceased was a trespasser?
On review, the court reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding that the jury was not properly instructed as to the railroad's duty if the deceased was a trespasser and that there was a jury question as to the deceased's status on the railroad's premises.