Cohen v. Petty

Procedural History

– The trial judge gave binding instructions, in favor of Petty (Defendant), and Cohen (Plaintiff) appealed.


–          A car flipped off the road, and Cohen, a passenger in the car, is suing for negligence while operating the vehicle.

–          P and sister in rear seat, while driver and wife were in the front.

–          Plaintiff argues:

  • D failed to exercise reasonable care in its operation, and drove it a reckless and excessive rate of speed, so that he lost control and it propelled off an embankment and permanently injured the P.
  • P argues that a minute before the accident, the D said that he felt sick, and continued to drive.

Defendant and wife (witness)

  • Claims that he fainted immediately after he said he felt sick, and he had no prior instances of fainting, so it was not foreseeable for him to faint.  He was not feeling bad until the moment that he fainted.


– Was the trial court correct in taking the case from the jury?


– Yes.


– It is undoubtedly the law, that one who is suddenly stricken by an illness, which he had no reason to anticipate, while driving an automobile, which renders it impossible for him to control the car, is not chargeable with negligence.

Courts Reasoning

–          The positive evidence shows that the defendant did not know and had no reason to think he would be subject to an attack that overcame him.

–          Hence, negligence cannot be predicted in this case upon defendant’s recklessness in driving an automobile when he knew or should have known of the possibility of an accident from such an event occurred.

–          Plaintiff failed to show any negligence actions on behalf of the Defendant.

–          Even if plaintiff’s own evidence tended more strongly than it does to imply some act of negligence, it would be insufficient to render such proof as the D offered here on undisputed facts, for in such a case the inference must yield to contradicted evidence of actual events.


–          Lower courts decision is affirmed in favor of the D.


  1. The trial judge gave binding instructions (directed a verdict) without a trial in favor of the plaintiff.
  2. Because there needs to be some sort of fault. Some sort of foreseeability in order to find someone negligent. It was not foreseeable that we would faint, he was not driving to fast, and he put himself in harms-way as well…Injunctions are not granted as a matter of course, but only when plaintiff’s remedies are inadequate
  3. He says that the fault system is too laborious, too time consuming, not cost effective, and it’s too hard to figure out who is at fault. For instance, in medical mal-practice cases, how do you draw a line as to who is at fault? You need experts to testify? You need witnesses and it usually takes two years….
  1.                                                               i.      He wants a no-fault insurance system with exceptions for things such as drunk drivers.

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