Smithwick v. Hall & Upson Co. – Case Brief Summary
Summary of Smithwick v. Hall & Upson Co., 59 Conn. 261, 21 A. 924, 12 L.R.A. 279 (1890).
Smithwick (P) worked for Hall & Upson and was helping to store ice in a brick building. Hall & Upson’s foreman stationed Smithwick on the platform and warned him that it was not safe for him to go to the east end of the platform but did not explain why. Smithwick assumed that the area was unsafe merely because it was narrow and did not have a railing.
Smithwick went to the east end of the platform despite the warning and sustained serious personal injuries when the brick wall collapsed and threw him to the ground. The trial court entered judgment for Smithwick and Hall & Upson appealed.
Does the failure to follow a warning amount to contributory negligence if a party suffers injury through an entirely different source of danger that exists due to the negligence of the defendant, if plaintiff did not know and could not have known of that danger?
Holding and Rule
No. The failure to follow a warning does not amount to contributory negligence if a party suffers injury through an entirely different source of danger that exists due to the negligence of the defendant, if plaintiff did not know and could not have known of that danger.
Smithwick’s injuries were caused through Hall & Upson’s negligence in causing the wall to fall. This was a source of danger of which he had no knowledge whatever. He was justified in supposing that the wall was safe and would not be likely to fall upon him, no matter where he stood on the platform.
Smithwick was not guilty of contributory negligence with respect to this source of danger by changing his position contrary to orders. Negligence presupposes a duty of taking care, and this in turn presupposes knowledge or its legal equivalent. In changing his position contrary to orders he voluntarily assumed the risk of any potential harm which a man of ordinary care in his place ought to have known or could reasonably have anticipated; but as to dangers arising through the defendant’s negligence from other sources – dangers which he was not bound to anticipate and of whose existence he had no knowledge – he took no risk and assumed no duty of taking care.
The act or omission of a party amounting to contributory negligence must be a negligent act or omission, and it must be a proximate cause or one of the proximate causes of the injury, and not merely a condition. An act or omission that merely increases or adds to the extent of the loss or injury will not bar the plaintiff from recovery, though it may affect the amount of damages recovered in a given case.
Judgment for Smithwick affirmed.
Contributory negligence is conduct that falls below the standard established by law for the protection of self against unreasonable risk of harm. A prima facie case of contributory negligence requires a finding that the negligence was the proximate cause of the harm. A mere fortuitous event will not amount to contributory negligence.
See Martin v. Herzog for a law school torts case brief presenting the rule that an unexcused violation of a statutory duty is negligence per se.