In determining whether conduct is negligent, the customs of the community, or of others under like circumstances, are factors to be taken into account, but are not controlling where a reasonable man would not follow them. In other words, custom or usage does not determine ordinary care, but the standard is what a reasonably prudent man under like circumstances would do.
A garage was repairing the owner's car. In order to make the repairs, it was necessary to remove the engine. Having removed the engine, the garage stored the car in an unfenced area between the garage and an adjacent street, and while the car was stored in this location, its transmission disappeared. The garage refused to compensate the owner for the loss of his transmission. As a result, the owner brought an action for conversion and, in the alternative, for negligence. The district court entered judgment in favor of the garage and denied the car owner's motion for a new trial.
Can a garage be liable for negligence after a transmission disappeared from a car in its possession awaiting repairs if the garage stored the vehicle in a way that is common in the community?
The court affirmed and held that: (1) the burden of persuasion was on the garage as bailee; (2) evidence that the garage followed local custom as to care of vehicles left in its possession supported an inference of reasonable care; (3) the owner failed to introduce any evidence to overcome the inference of reasonable care arising from the garage's evidence; and (4) there was nothing in common experience that led to the conclusion that the garage's conduct was negligent. The court also held that the trial court properly refused to allow questions concerning the garage's profits.