Torts I

Davison v. Snohomish County

Supreme Court of Washington, 1928


Defendant built an elevated approach to a bridge. In this approach there was a right-angle turn. Plaintiff was heading onto the bridge on this approach at a slow rate of speed one evening when he lost control while rounding the curve. Plaintiff's car skidded, hit the railing, broke through the railing, and plummeted to the bottom, causing severe injury to both the plaintiffs and to the car.

Procedural History:

Plaintiff won at trial with a judgment for $2,500.


Is the government liable for damage caused by not having secure guardrails?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Bridge was unsafe because neither the railing nor the guard stopped plaintiffs' vehicle from skidding off the approach.


One must fail to exercise ordinary care to be liable for negligence.


The government is not capable of building railings to stop vehicles from leaving all roads. Requiring impenetrable guardrails on all public roads would stop the building of new roads and give great financial burden to counties responsible for the maintenance of current roads. Especially as this was a wooden bridge, retrofitting it to stop an automobile would be an unreasonably expensive task beyond the duty of ordinary care.


No, stopping a car is unreasonably difficult to expect for the vast quantities of roads designed for horses in America.