NEW YORK, N.H. & H. R. CO. V. FRUCHTER, 260 U. S. 141 (1922)

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U.S. Supreme Court

New York, N.H. & H. R. Co. v. Fruchter, 260 U.S. 141 (1922)

New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company v. Fruchter

Nos. 35, 36

Argued October 6, 9, 1922

Decided November 13, 1922

260 U.S. 141




A boy of eight years, by climbing to the topmost girder of a municipal bridge used for conveying a street across a railroad, and thence up a latticed tower, touched a live electric wire twenty-nine feet above the street, and was injured. Held, upon the circumstances stated in the opinion, that the railroad company (which maintained the wires and the bridge framework) could not be deemed liable upon the theory of license or invitation. P. 260 U. S. 143. United Zinc Co. v. Britt, 258 U. S. 268.

261 F.4d 9 reversed.

Certiorari to judgments of the circuit court of appeals affirming judgments in the district court against the petitioner in two actions for personal injuries.

Page 260 U. S. 143

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Since 1908, 149th Street, New York City, has been carried over and across the tracks of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad by a public municipal steel truss bridge of standard construction. The bridge is fifty-four feet wide, 270 feet long, and is formed of posts, beams, girders, etc., connected and strengthened by trellis or lattice work. The top girders, or beams, are twenty-three feet above the street. The local law imposes upon the railroad the duty of maintaining the framework; the municipality is required to keep the roadway in repair.

Fastened to the top girder at the end of the bridge are two upright steel lattice towers, posts, or struts. Cross-arms, attached to these six feet above their bases, support bare wires carrying electric current used for operating trains. The nearest wire is nineteen inches from the strut.

Page 260 U. S. 144

With considerable difficulty and some danger, active boys can climb to the highest parts of the bridge. They did often climb upon it; some reached the struts. They were frequently chased away by a policeman and the railroad guard, and seem generally to have understood that to play there was forbidden; when a officer came in sight, they kept off. At each corner of the bridge, there was a notice board displaying the words: "Live Wires. Danger. Keep Off."

In June, 1916, the plaintiff David Fruchter, 8 years old, by using the trellis work, climbed from the street to the top of the bridge in quest of a bird's nest. He then saw a bird on the wire above, and, to catch it, climbed up the strut and reached out; the bird flew away, his hand touched the wire, and severe injuries resulted. He sued for damages, and the father also seeks to recover for loss of services and expenses incurred. The causes were tried together. The circuit court of appeals affirmed judgments for the plaintiffs, February, 1921. 271 F.4d 9.

At the time of the accident, the boy was attending school. Whether he could then read the warning words upon the notice boards is left in doubt; upon the witness stand, he both affirmed and denied that he could. He further stated that, before climbing upon the bridge, he looked to see whether a policeman was present, and admitted that, if one had been there, he would not have gone up.

The court below accepted the theory that the jury could have found the structure was well known to be both dangerous and attractive to children, and that failure to supply proper guards, human or mechanical, constituted negligence within the doctrine of Railroad Co. v. Stout, 17 Wall. 657, and Union Pacific Railway Co. v. McDonald, 152 U. S. 262.

In United Zinc & Chemical Co. v. Britt, 258 U. S. 268, we pointed out the theory upon which liability may

Page 260 U. S. 145

exist for injuries suffered by an infant, although the circumstances would give no cause of action to an adult:

"Infants have no greater right to go upon other people's land than adults, and the mere fact that they are infants imposes no duty upon landowners to expect them and to prepare for their safety. On the other hand, the duty of one who invites another upon his land not to lead him into a trap is well settled, and while it is very plain that temptation is not invitation, it may be held that knowingly to establish and expose, unfenced, to children of an age when they follow a bait as mechanically as a fish, something that is certain to attract them, has the legal effect of an invitation to them, although not to an adult. . . . There can be no general duty on the part of a landowner to keep his land safe for children, or even free from hidden dangers, if he has not directly or by implication invited or licensed them to come there."

Considering the peculiar circumstances of the present cause, it is clear that, if the plaintiff had been an adult, he could not recover, and we are unable to find any sufficient evidence from which the jury could have properly concluded that the railroad company, either directly or by implication, invited or licensed him to climb upon the strut to a point from which he could touch the bare wire 30 feet above the street. The motion for an instructed verdict should have been granted.

The judgment of the court below is reversed, and the cause remanded to the district court for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.

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