Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Goodman, 275 U.S. 66 (1927)

Justia Opinion Summary and Annotations

Annotation

Primary Holding

While the jury usually decides what reasonable care would be, courts can make that decision when the standard is clear.

Facts

Goodman reduced speed to 10 mph as he was driving his truck toward a blind railroad crossing that lacked signals and guard rails. When he did see the train, he was unable to stop and was struck and killed. Goodman's family brought a wrongful death claim against Baltimore & Ohio R.R., which responded that he had died as a result of his own negligence. However, the jury did not direct a verdict for the railroad, and the jury eventually found for Goodman's family.

Opinions

Majority

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (Author)
  • William Howard Taft
  • Willis Van Devanter
  • James Clark McReynolds
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis
  • Pierce Butler
  • Edward Terry Sanford
  • Harlan Fiske Stone

When the evidence shows that an accident victim did not take the reasonable precautions to protect himself from a known risk, a directed verdict is proper. In this situation, Goodman knew that he needed to yield to the train and that the area was potentially dangerous. He could have been expected to completely stop his vehicle and get out if needed to determine whether a train was approaching. Failing to stop in this type of situation was a clear example of negligence and the proximate cause of his death.

Recused

  • George Sutherland (Author)

Case Commentary

It was obvious in this case that a reasonable person should have checked for a train in the area around the tracks, so this issue could be decided by the court and did not need to be submitted to the jury.

U.S. Supreme Court

Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Goodman, 275 U.S. 66 (1927)

Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Goodman

No. 58

Argued October 20, 1927

Decided October 31, 1927

275 U.S. 66

Syllabus

1. One who drives upon a railroad track relying upon not having heard a train or any signal and taking no further precaution does so at his own risk. If he cannot otherwise be sure whether a train is dangerously near, the driver must stop and get out of his vehicle before attempting to cross. P. 275 U. S. 69.

2. In an action for negligence, the question of due care is not left to the jury when resolved by a clear standard of conduct which should be laid down by the courts. P. 275 U. S. 70.

10 F.2d 58 reversed.

Certiorari, 271 U.S. 658, to a judgment of the circuit court of appeals sustaining a recovery for death caused by alleged negligence of the railroad in an action by the widow and administratrix of the deceased. The action was removed from an Ohio state court on the ground of diversity of citizenship.

Page 275 U. S. 69

U.S. Supreme Court

Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Goodman, 275 U.S. 66 (1927)

Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Goodman

No. 58

Argued October 20, 1927

Decided October 31, 1927

275 U.S. 66

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. One who drives upon a railroad track relying upon not having heard a train or any signal and taking no further precaution does so at his own risk. If he cannot otherwise be sure whether a train is dangerously near, the driver must stop and get out of his vehicle before attempting to cross. P. 275 U. S. 69.

2. In an action for negligence, the question of due care is not left to the jury when resolved by a clear standard of conduct which should be laid down by the courts. P. 275 U. S. 70.

10 F.2d 58 reversed.

Certiorari, 271 U.S. 658, to a judgment of the circuit court of appeals sustaining a recovery for death caused by alleged negligence of the railroad in an action by the widow and administratrix of the deceased. The action was removed from an Ohio state court on the ground of diversity of citizenship.

Page 275 U. S. 69

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit brought by the widow and administratrix of Nathan Goodman against the petitioner for causing his death by running him down at a grade crossing. The defence is that Goodman's own negligence caused the death. At the trial, the defendant asked the court to direct a verdict for it, but the request and others looking to the same direction were refused, and the plaintiff got a verdict and a judgment which was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 10 F.2d 58.

Goodman was driving an automobile truck in an easterly direction and was killed by a train running southwesterly across the road at a rate of not less than 60 miles an hour. The line was straight, but it is said by the respondent that Goodman "had no practical view" beyond a section house 243 feet north of the crossing until he was about 20 feet from the first rail, or, as the respondent argues, 12 feet from danger, and that then the engine was still obscured by the section house. He had been driving at the rate of 10 or 12 miles an hour, but had cut down his rate to 5 or 6 miles at about 40 feet from the crossing. It is thought that there was an emergency in which, so far as appears, Goodman did all that he could.

We do not go into further details as to Goodman's precise situation, beyond mentioning that it was daylight and that he was familiar with the crossing, for it appears to us plain that nothing is suggested by the evidence to relieve Goodman from responsibility for his own death. When a man goes upon a railroad track, he knows that he goes to a place where he will be killed if a train comes upon him before he is clear of the track. He knows that

Page 275 U. S. 70

he must stop for the train, not the train stop for him. In such circumstances, it seems to us that, if a driver cannot be sure otherwise whether a train is dangerously near, he must stop and get out of his vehicle, although obviously he will not often be required to do more than to stop and look. It seems to us that, if he relies upon not hearing the train or any signal and takes no further precaution, he does so at his own risk. If, at the last moment, Goodman found himself in an emergency, it was his own fault that he did not reduce his speed earlier or come to a stop. It is true, as said in Flannelly v. Delaware & Hudson Co., 225 U. S. 597, 225 U. S. 603, that the question of due care very generally is left to the jury. But we are dealing with a standard of conduct, and when the standard is clear, it should be laid down once for all by the Courts. See Southern Pacific Co. v. Berkshire, 254 U. S. 415, 254 U. S. 417-419.

Judgment reversed.

MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND was absent.

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