Wagner v. Int'l R. Co.

232 N.Y. 176, 133 N.E. 437 (1921)



Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief. The law does not ignore these reactions of the mind in tracing conduct to its consequences. It recognizes them as normal. It places their effects within the range of the natural and probable. The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the imperiled victim; it is a wrong also to his rescuer. The state that leaves an opening in a bridge is liable to the child that falls into the stream, but liable also to the parent who plunges to its aid. The railroad company whose train approaches without signal is a wrongdoer toward the traveler surprised between the rails, but a wrongdoer also to the bystander who drags him from the path.


Plaintiff and his cousin were riding defendant's electric railway when plaintiff's cousin was thrown from the train through an open door. The accident occurred as the train rounded a curve on a bridge. According to disputed testimony, when the train stopped, plaintiff, followed by the conductor, walked the bridge in an attempt to locate plaintiff's cousin. Other passengers went beneath the bridge in an attempt to locate the body. While they stood there, plaintiff's body struck the ground. Plaintiff brought suit for personal injuries he sustained. The trial judge held that negligence toward plaintiff's cousin would not charge defendant with liability for injuries plaintiff suffered. Plaintiff appealed.


Was the court's ruling proper?




The court reversed and granted a new trial because it found the trial court erred in holding, as a matter of law, that the first accident was not the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. The court held that whether the cousin's fall was due to defendant's negligence and whether plaintiff in going to the rescue as he did was foolhardy or reasonable in light of the emergency confronting him were questions for the jury.

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