Martin v Herzog

Dispute

The decedent plaintiff had been driving without lights, in violation of statute, when he was struck and killed by a negligent defendant. The jury was instructed that driving without lights was not negligence in itself and therefore found the decedent free of contributory negligence. Appealed, and the appellate court reversed for error in instructions. Appealed again.

Questions of law

Does violation of statute on the part of a defendant constitute contributory negligence?

Conclusion

Because the violation of the statute contributed to the accident, it was potential negligence and the plaintiff could have been barred from recovery. The jury should have evaluated causation but not negligence. “A plaintiff who travels without [lights] is not to forfeit the right to damages unless the absence of lights is at least a contributing cause of the disaster.”

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