Bonney v. Canadian N. R. Co.

800 F.2d 274 (1st Cir. 1986)



A landowner owes no duty of care to a trespasser; its duty is simply to refrain from wanton, wilful, or reckless acts.


In an attempt to return home, a young boy decided to take the shortcut of riding his bike across a railroad trestle. The railroad trestle was frequently used by residents in the area as a shortcut. As the young boy crossed the bridge, he fell into the water below. The decedent, a police officer, arrived on the scene. When the decedent attempted to save the child, both he and the child died. The railway company was aware that residents used the trestle as a shortcut and had placed no trespass signs on the bridge in the past. The administratrix of the decedent's estate, the officer's wife, brought an action against the railway company for the wrongful death of her husband. The district court granted a judgment in her favor.


Does Maine law recognize a landowner’s independent duty to rescuers?




On appeal, the court ruled that under Maine law, the railway company owed no duty of care to the young boy because he was a trespasser. A trespasser is deemed to enter at his own risk, and must take the premises as they are in fact, and he assumes all risk of injury from their condition. A landowner is not required to use due care to maintain its premises reasonably safe for the benefit of trespassers. The court found that the railway company did not owe a duty of care to the decedent because there was no law that permitted a rescuer of a trespasser to recover independently against a landowner. Where the act of the defendant is not tortious and presents no cause of action to the person in danger, an attempted rescue creates no new, independent right or liability. If a defendant did not breach a duty, which it owed the person to be rescued it is, on the same facts, guilty of no breach of duty owed the rescuer. Without some breach of duty there is nothing upon which liability may be based. The court REVERSED the judgment in favor of the administratrix and REMANDED with direction that the district court dismiss her complaint.

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