Eckert v. Long Island R.R. Co., 43 N.Y. 502 (1871).

Case Citation: Eckert v. Long Island R.R. Co., 43 N.Y. 502 (1871). 

Parties:    Anna Eckert, Administratrix of Henry Eckert, deceased, Respondent, v. The Long Island Railroad Company, Appellant. 

Facts: The decedent observed that with a train approaching, a child aged three to four years old was sitting or standing upon rail road tracks belonging to the appellant (Eckert v. Long Island R.R. Co., 43 N.Y. 502 (1871)). The child was in danger of being run over by the approaching train (Id.). The decedent ran onto the tracks to save the child (Id.). After saving the child, the decedent was struck by a protrusion from the train and later died from the injuries sustained (Id.). 

Procedural History:  Appellant challenged an order from the Supreme Court (New York), which affirmed a judgment for plaintiff executrix for wrongful death that was rendered by the City Court of Brooklyn, New York (Eckert, 43 N.Y. at 501). The appellant argued that decedent’s attempt to rescue a young child from the oncoming train constituted contributory negligence that precluded the executrix’s recovery (Id.).

Issue: Whether the decedent’s attempt to rescue a young child from the oncoming train constituted contributory negligence that precluded the executrix’s recovery? (Id.).
Holding:   No, the Court held that the decedent’s attempt to rescue a young child from the oncoming train did not constitute contributory negligence that precluded the executrix’s recovery (Eckert, 43 N.Y. at 503). 

Reasoning: The Court stated that negligence implies some act of commission or omission wrongful in itself. (Eckert, 43 N.Y. at 507). Based on this fact, the Court reasoned that for a person engaged in his ordinary affairs, or in the mere protection of property, knowingly and voluntarily to place himself in a position where he is liable to receive a serious injury, is negligence, which will preclude a recovery for an injury so received; but when the exposure is for the purpose of saving life, it is not wrongful, and therefore not negligent unless such as to be regarded either rash or reckless (Eckert, 43 N.Y. at 506). Because the decedent had to make a split-second decision to save the child, the court did not find the decedent’s actions to be rash or reckless (Id.).

Dissent: Justice Allen argues that because the decedent voluntarily placed himself in harm’s way, the decedent assumed the risk and contributed to his own demise (Eckert, 43 N.Y. at 509).  Because of this fact, Justice Allen continues to argue that the decedent must bear all consequences of his actions (Id.).

Judgement:   Affirmed (Eckert, 43 N.Y. at 508). Comment: This case provides a majority opinion and a minority opinion about whether an assumption of risk should be considered a contributory act in a negligence case when a plaintiff assumes a reasonable risk in order to save a life.