Pokora v. Wabash Railway Co.

292 U.S. 98 (1934).

One-Sentence Takeaway: The issue of whether the driver of truck, struck by train at crossing, was contributorily negligent in going forward in reliance on his sense of hearing, unaided by that of sight, which was obstructed by box cars on switch, is one for the jury to determine.

Summary:  Plaintiff was an ice dealer who was driving across the railroad tracks on his way to load up his truck with ice.  Plaintiff stopped, he looked, and he listened before beginning to cross, but by the time he reached the main track, he was struck by a passenger train.  The evidence showed that Plaintiff had no view of the train until it was so close that he could not escape.

The trial court issued a directed verdict for the Defendant railroad, finding contributory negligence, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed based on Baltimore & Ohio RR Co. v. Goodman.  Specifically, the lower courts reasoned that because Plaintiff did not get out of his truck to look down the tracks before crossing, he was contributorily negligent as a matter of law.

The United States Supreme Court reversed.  The Court held that the question of whether reasonable caution forbade Plaintiff going forward in reliance on the sense of hearing unaided by sight should have been left for the jury to decide.  If a person cannot use both his faculties of sight and hearing due to the circumstances, that does not automatically make him negligent.

Reversed and remanded

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