Pokora v. Wabash Ry. Co. Case Brief

Summary of Pokora v. Wabash Ry. Co., S. Ct U.S. 1934

Relevant Facts: PL was driving a truck and approached four tracks at a RR crossing. B/C of boxcars standing on the first track, he could not see the tracks to the north. He stopped looked and listened but heard no bell or whistle. He then drove slowly across and when he reached the main track he was struck by a passenger train.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the PL fell short of the legal standard of duty established for a traveler crossing the R R tracks?

Court’s Holding: No

Procedure: Trial Ct directed verdict for DF, (PL conduct was contributory neg), Ct. App affirmed. S. Ct. Reversed and remanded.

Law or Rule(s): An unyielding duty to stop, as well as to look and listen, no matter how clear the crossing or the tracks on either side.

Court Rationale: To require a traveler to get out and reconnoiter is an uncommon precaution. A train traveling at 35 mph will cover a quarter of a mile in thirty seconds. By the time he regains his seat the train may be upon him. While the Pl was looking one direction, a train or a loose engine may be approaching from the other. The need for cts to exercise caution in framing standards of behavior that amounts to rules of law is urgent when there is no background of experience out of which the standards have emerged.

In default of the guide of customary conduct, what is suitable for the traveler caught in a mesh where the ordinary safeguards fail him is for the jury.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The PL was only required to look and listen in each direction.

Defendant’s Argument: The PL fell short of the legal duty to get out of the truck and then look and listen.

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