Pokora v. Wabash Ry. Co. – Case Brief
Pokora v. Wabash Ry. Co., 292 U.S. 98, 54 S.Ct. 580, 78 L.Ed. 1149 (1934).
Facts: Pokora (P) approached a Wabash (D) railroad crossing in his truck. Pokora stopped and looked and listened as well as he could. P heard no bell or whistle and drove slowly ahead and was struck by a passenger train. P sued Wabash for his injuries and the trial court granted a directed verdict in favor of D on the grounds that P was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. The ruling was affirmed by the court of appeals and D appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Issues: 1) What is the duty imposed on a party when crossing a railroad track? 2) What criteria must courts of law use in establishing a standard of prudent conduct as a rule of law?
Holding and Rule:
1) There is a duty before crossing a railroad track to stop, look, listen, and to get out of the vehicle and reconnoiter if the view is obstructed and one cannot otherwise be sure that a train is not dangerously near – provided that sight and hearing become inadequate for a traveler’s protection.
2) A standard of prudent conduct declared by courts as a rule of law must be taken over from the facts of life, and must be such that a failure to conform to it is negligence so obvious and certain that rational and candid minds could not deem it otherwise.
The circumstances of the situation dictate the duty that is due and the duty to stop and look is predicated on circumstances where sight and sound alone make it dangerous to a reasonable person. It is up to the jury to decide whether a particular course of action was prudent under the circumstances.
Disposition: Reversed and remanded.
Notes: The standard for measuring negligence is conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of others against an unreasonable risk of harm. That standard must be determined by the fact finder on a case by case basis. The negligence standard never changes; it is only the circumstances that change and how a reasonable person acts under them.