Torts I

Chicago, B. & Q.R. Co. v. Krayenbuhl

Supreme Court of Nebraska, 1902

Facts:

Plaintiff, a four-year-old child commonly traveled a public footpath 70 feet from the defendant's railroad turntable. Defendant had a policy to lock this turntable in place, but this was frequently not followed. Plaintiff with some of his friends found the turntable and began playing on it. In the process, one of the children activated it and severed plaintiff's foot.

Procedural History:

The trial resulted in a verdict and judgment for plaintiff, and defendant brings error.

Issue:

Are businesses responsible for injuries caused by publicly accessible dangerous machinery?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Defendant should be liable because he should have locked the turntable in place.

Rules:

  • Restrictions must be placed on dangerous machinery when the restriction's increase of safety outweighs the public benefit lost from the added inefficiency of the machine's operation. In reverse, when the public benefit of a machine outweighs the public safety such efficiency costs, no such restriction is needed.

  • Bell's: If reasonable cautions can be taken without reducing public benefit, standard of care requires that such precautions must be taken.

Reasoning:

As fastening a lock on the turntable was such a simple act that would be unlikely to cause any loss of efficiency or benefit of the public good, the danger posed by not doing so is by default greater. Therefore, they should be liable for not following this restriction.

Holding:

Yes, if such danger could be reasonably prevented and outweighs the public good. However, improper jury instructions were given, so judgment reversed.

Takeaway:

Public benefit must outweigh public danger.

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