Martin v. Herzog (N.Y. 1920)

Procedural History: Negligence was charged against the defendant in that he did not keep to the right of the center of the highway. Negligence is charged against the plaintiff’s intestate, the driver of the wagon, in that he was traveling without lights. The jury found the defendant delinquent and his victim blameless. The Appellate Division reversed and ordered a new trial. Court of Appeals agreed with Appellate Division that the charge to the jury was erroneous and misleading. Defendant requested ruling that absence of a light on the plaintiff’s vehicle was “prima facie evidence of contributory negligence.”

Facts: Plaintiff and her husband were driving toward Tarrytown in a buggy at night. The defendant’s automobile came around a corner going in the opposite direction and plaintiff and her husband were thrown to the ground and the husband was killed. There is no evidence that the defendant was moving at an excessive speed or that there was any defect in the automobile. The automobile’s lights were pointed towards the right as the corner was rounded towards the left. The buggy had no lights on it.

Issue: If the driver of a buggy does not have lights on it (which are required by law), then if the driver is killed then has he committed contributory negligence towards his death?

Rules: The “Highway Law” of New York establishes that drivers must keep to the right of the center of the highway, and that you may not travel without lights.

Application: The trial court instructed the jury that it was up to the jury’s discretion whether traveling without lights was negligent. Cardozo establishes that because it was the duty of a statute, driving without lights was negligent.

Holding: When a driver of a vehicle breaks a statutory duty to protect himself and others, he is driving negligently.

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