Cooley v. Public Service Co. – Case Brief
Cooley v. Public Service Co., 90 N.H. 460, 10 A.2d 673 (N.H. 1940).
Facts: During a severe storm, an uninsulated power line maintained by Public Service Co. (D) broke and burned through the telephone line. Cooley (P) was on the phone when the accident occurred which caused a loud noise to come through the receiver. The noise scared her and made her faint causing severe physical injuries. Cooley sued for damages, claiming that Public Service Co. should have anticipated that the wires might fall, causing a telephone user to hear a loud noise, which in turn could cause the telephone user to sustain injuries.
P claims that it was D’s duty to prevent the power lines from coming in contact with the phone lines. At trial the jury found in favor of P and D appealed. The appellate court reversed and P appealed.
Issue: Is a party liable for negligence for an act that causes an incidental injury, if that party used the appropriate standard of care to avoid harm to those most affected by the activity?
Holding and Rule: No. Alternative safety measures that would have prevented the power lines from contacting the phone lines would have placed pedestrians at greater risk. D could not be liable to both the phone user and the pedestrian. The appropriate duty of care is based on the measure of care that is reasonable under all the circumstances.
P had the burden of proof to show that D’s efforts were not practical. P failed to reach this burden. The danger to P was remote as opposed to the danger to those walking under the power lines.
Disposition: Affirmed – judgment for D.
Notes: The appropriate standard of care is that which is best for the greatest number of people.