Torts I, Pages 238–240

Zeni v. Anderson

Supreme Court of Michigan, 1976

Facts:

Plaintiff was walking along a road on the right side on a snowy day, as the sideway was covered in snow and she had fallen on it several days before. Defendant was driving from behind plaintiff and struck her, causing amnesia and permanent disability. It is disputed between defendant and an eyewitness whether she could see properly and if defendant was entirely on the road. Michigan statute mandates that pedestrians walk on the left side of the road when practicable, so as to see oncoming traffic.

Procedural History:

Jury verdict for plaintiff. Court of appeals reversed because of instructions on the subject of last clear chance.

Issue:

Does violating a statute automatically make one negligent?

Defendant's Argument:

Plaintiff was on the wrong side of the road, in violation of Michigan law, and hence was contributorily negligent.

Reasoning:

It is discretionary whether whether the criminal statute sets the standard of care in a civil action, as that is fair and logical. If violating a statute constitutes liability regardless of the care taken or available options, it is strict liability and not negligence at all. Violation of statute sets a rebuttable presumption. However, the plaintiff did not even violate the statute, as the circumstances were unpracticable as teh jury found.

Rule/Holding:

Violation of statute merely establishes a rebuttable presumption of negligence.

Judgment:

Court of Appeals is reversed, and the trial court is affirmed. Costs to plaintiff.

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