Adams v. Bullock

227 N.Y. 208 (1919).

One-Sentence Takeaway: Defendant not liable for alleged negligence in the absence of any evidence that reasonable precautions had not been taken against injury from trolley wire.

Summary: A 12-year-old boy swung a wire off of a bridge and it hit the trolley lines that Defendant ran and it electrocuted the boy.  The trial court returned a verdict in favor of the boy.

The issue presented to the Court of Appeals of New York was whether Defendant was negligent and thus responsible for the boy’s electrocution.  The Court of Appeals answered in the negative and reversed the verdict.

The Court reasoned that Defendant was using the trolley system lawfully and Plaintiff did not present any evidence that Defendant failed to adopt reasonable precautions to minimize the resulting perils.  Rather, the evidence showed that no one standing on the bridge or bending over it could reach the wire and no reasonable person could have predicted the point upon the route where such an accident would occur.  Moreover, evidence showed that there was no history of such accident occurring in the past and, therefore, this accident was not in the range of prudent foresight.  Evidence further established that insulating the wires was impossible in the case of trolleys and, therefore, Defendant would have had to place the wires underground and abandoned the overhead system for this accident not to have occurred.



Musser v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co., 122 W. Va. 365 (1940):

The case of Adams v. Bullock, supra, is closely in point with the instant case. That case involved a boy twelve years of age swinging a wire about eight feet long as he came across a bridge frequented by children. There the parapet of the bridge was eighteen inches high. Only four feet, seven and three-fourths inches below the top of the parapet, there was a trolley wire, electricity from which shocked and burned the boy when he brought the wire he was holding in contact with the charged wire. The New York Court of Appeals reversed a judgment in Adams’ favor entered on a jury verdict. Judge Cardozo speaking for the Court said: “But no vigilance, however alert, unless fortified by the gift of prophecy, could have predicted the point upon the route where such an accident would occur. It might with equal reason have been expected anywhere else. At any point upon the route a mischievous or thoughtless boy might touch the wire with a metal pole, or fling another wire across it.” In the Adams case the Court said that to hold the defendant liable in that case would be to charge it as an insurer.

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