New York Central R.R. v. Grimstad – Case Brief
New York Central R.R. v. Grimstad, 264 F. 334 (2d Cir. 1920).
Facts: Grimstad (P) was the captain of a barge owned by New York Central R.R. (D). When the barge was bumped by a tug Grimstad, who could not swim, fell overboard. Grimstad’s wife ran to get help – she could not find a life preserver and by the time she returned with a rope he had drowned.
In a suit against D under the Employer’s Liability Act, P’s wife claimed that she could have saved P if there had been a life preserver aboard the ship. The trial court entered judgment for P holding that D had been negligent in not equipping the barge with life preservers and D appealed.
Issue: Can liability for negligence lie if it is a matter of speculation whether a party’s act caused an accident?
Holding and Rule: No. To be liable for negligence, a party’s act or failure to act must be the cause in fact of the accident. It cannot be a matter of speculation.
The court held that the proximate cause of P’s death was his inability to swim, not the failure of D to maintain life preservers aboard the barge and the jury’s decision was pure conjecture and speculation. The burden of proof was on P to show that his ability to swim did not play an important role in the drowning. There was no proof to show that if there had been a life preserver available that P would not have drowned because there was no evidence that the wife would have been able to save him.
Disposition: Reversed, for D.
See also Ford v. Trident Fisheries Co.