Law School Case Brief
Stevens v. Bos. E. R. Co. - 184 Mass. 476, 69 N.E. 338 (1904)
A violation of rules previously adopted by a defendant in reference to the safety of third persons has generally been admitted in evidence as tending to show negligence of the defendant's disobedient servant for which the defendant is liable.
Defendant railway challenged the admission into evidence of its rules in regard to sounding the gong, in connection with testimony that a motorman disobeyed the rule and that this disobedience was one of the causes of the accident. The plaintiff offered in evidence one of the rules in a certain book admitted by the defendant to be a book of rules issued by the defendant railway to its motormen and conductors, and admitted to have been the book of rules that was in force on the day of the accident. The rule which the plaintiff offered was Rule 83, and was as follows:"Gong Ringing. The gong must always be sounded before starting, when starting, and before reaching, and at all street crossings, when passing other cars or vehicles, and at all points where vehicles or foot passengers are crossing or are liable to cross the tracks. The gong must not be sounded wantonly or unnecessarily, and when passing places of worship during service hours, making as little noise as possible. Upon approaching streets or crossings the power must be shut off and the car kept under perfect control. This rule must be strictly observed during all hours of the day and night." To the admission of this rule the defendant objected.
Did defendant railway present sufficient ground for the court not to admit defendant’s own guidelines with regard to sounding the gong by its own motorman?
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts overruled the exceptions. The court found that the weight of authority and of reason supported the admission of the evidence. A violation of rules previously adopted by a defendant in reference to the safety of third persons was generally admitted in evidence as tending to show negligence of a defendant's disobedient servant. Such evidence was somewhat analogous to proof of the violation of an ordinance or statute by a defendant or his servant, which was always received as evidence. A distinction could well be made between precautions taken voluntarily before an accident and precautions that were adopted after an accident. The taking of precautions against the future was not to be construed as an admission of responsibility for the past, had no legitimate tendency to prove that a defendant had been negligent before the accident happened, and was calculated to distract the minds of the jury from the real issue.
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