Hinkle v. Minneapolis, A. & C. R. Ry. Co., 24238.

Decision Date20 February 1925
Docket NumberNo. 24238.,24238.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Appeal from District Court, Anoka County; Arthur E. Giddings, Judge.

Action by Chester K. Hinkle against the Minneapolis, Anoka & Cayuna Range Railway Company. From judgment for defendant, plaintiff appeals. Affirmed.

Thos. D. Schall and John M. Rees, both of Minneapolis, for appellant.

John P. Coleman and Will A. Blanchard, both of Anoka, for respondent.


The record presents the abstract question, namely: Is willful and wanton negligence by a plaintiff a defense to an action for plaintiff's injuries caused by the willful and wanton negligence of the defendant?

The bill of exceptions does not contain the evidence. We must assume that the facts warranted the charge given. This case, however, must not be construed as an authority for the application of the doctrine, we now announce, to the facts as they in part appear in the record and briefs.

Contributory negligence bars an action based upon ordinary negligence. Contributory negligence has no application where defendant is guilty of willful and wanton negligence. Such negligence incurs liability irrespective of contributory negligence.

Willful and wanton negligence is reckless disregard of the safety of the person or property of another by failing, after discovering the peril, to exercise ordinary care to prevent the impending injury. Anderson v. Mpls. St. Paul & S. Ste. M. Ry. Co., 103 Minn. 224, 114 N. W. 1123, 14 L. R. A. (N. S.) 886; Anderson v. Mpls., St. Ry. Co., 150 Minn. 509, 185 N. W. 661; Ashe v. Mpls., St. Paul & S. S. M. Ry. Co., 138 Minn. 176, 164 N. W. 803; 8 Minn. Law Review, 329; Pickering v. N. P. Ry. Co., 132 Minn. 205, 156 N. W. 3; Gill v. Mpls., St. Paul, R. & D. E. T. Co., 129 Minn. 142, 151 N. W. 896; Havel v. M. & St. L. Ry. Co., 120 Minn. 195, 139 N. W. 137. One is liable for negligence only when such negligence is the proximate cause of the injury. When a defendant is charged with ordinary negligence, contributory negligence is a good defense. Why? The answer is founded in proximate cause. In the absence of the doctrine of comparative negligence they are equally to blame. When two persons are equally at fault in producing the injury, the law leaves them where it finds them. Contributory negligence is not a defense to wanton and willful negligence, for the very simple reason that the parties are not equally delinquent in the violation of duty. In such case the negligence of the defendant is the proximate cause of plaintiff's injury while his negligence is no more than a remote cause.

The theory of these variations of negligence leads to but one logical conclusion, and that is that the same basic reason which causes contributory negligence to prevent a recovery in an action sounding in ordinary negligence also prevents a recovery by one who is guilty of willful and wanton negligence. such negligence is just as efficient to offset the defendant's negligence of the same...

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