Roberts v. Ring

173 N.W. 437 (Minn. 1919).

One-Sentence Takeaway: The physical infirmities of the defendant driver of which he has knowledge do not relieve defendant from exercising the care required of an ordinary prudent person operating a motor vehicle.

Summary:  Defendant was 77 years old and had poor eyesight and hearing.  While Defendant was driving his vehicle four or five miles an hour, a seven-year-old boy darted in front of his vehicle.  Although Defendant testified that he saw the boy, he failed to stop and ran over the victim.

The trial court instructed the jury that Defendant’s physical infirmities might be taken into consideration in determining whether he was negligent.  However, the Supreme Court of Minnesota held that the trial court erred by providing that instruction to the jury.

The court concluded that Defendant was negligent in either not seeing the boy or, if he had seen the boy, in not stopping in time to avoid the collision.  With respect to Defendant’s infirmities, the court concluded that, to the extent it was appropriate for the jury to consider them at all, they were evidence of the unreasonableness of Defendant’s conduct in attempting to operate a motor vehicle in the first place.  The court reasoned: “As above indicated, defendant’s infirmities did not tend to relieve him from the charge of negligence. On the contrary they weighed against him. Such infirmities, to the extent that they were proper to be considered at all, presented only a reason why defendant should refrain from operating an automobile on a crowded street where care was required to avoid injuring other travelers. When one by his acts or omissions causes injury to others, his negligence is to be judged by the standard of care usually exercised by the ordinarily prudent normal man.”

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