Topic: Butterfield v. Forrester - Torts Judgments

Butterfield v. Forrester
11 East 60, 103 Eng. Rep. 926 (1809).

the defendant had put a pole across a public thoroughfare in Durby, which he had no right to do. The plaintiff was riding that way at 8’O clock in the evening in August, when dusk was coming on, but the obstruction was still visible from a distance of 100 yards, he was riding violently, came against the pole and fell with the horse. It was held that the plaintiff could not claim damages as he was also negligent.

Facts: Forrester (D) placed a pole across the road next to his house in the course of making repairs to the house. Butterfield (P) was riding at high speed at approximately 8 PM at twilight and did not see the pole. He struck the pole and suffered personal injuries when he fell off his horse.

A witness testified that visibility was 100 yards at the time of the accident and Butterfield might have observed and avoided the pole if he had not been riding at such a high speed. There was no evidence that Butterfield had been intoxicated at the time of the accident.

At trial the judge instructed the jury that if an individual riding with reasonable care could have avoided the pole, and if the jury found that Butterfield had not used ordinary care in riding at high speed, the verdict should be in Forrester’s favor. The jury was directed under contributory negligence. The jury returned a verdict for Forrester and Butterfield appealed.

Issue: If a plaintiff’s conduct falls below the standard established by law for the protection of self against an unreasonable risk of harm, can that plaintiff recover for personal injuries caused by a resulting accident?

Holding and Rule: No. If a plaintiff’s conduct falls below the standard established by law for the protection of self against an unreasonable risk of harm, that plaintiff is contributorily negligent and cannot recover for personal injuries caused by a resulting accident.

The court stated that in this case Butterfield would have seen the obstruction if he had used ordinary care. The accident was Butterfield’s fault and due to his contributory negligence he may not recover. No injured plaintiff may recover damages against a negligent defendant if that plaintiff did not exercise reasonable and ordinary care to avoid the injury.

Disposition: Rule refused – judgment in favor of Forrester.

Lord Ellenborough: A man is under a duty to use common and ordinary caution for his own good. Even if a party is observed to be riding on the wrong side of the road, a man of ordinary sense does not ride against them after seeing them in the wrong. One person being in fault will not dispense with the requirement that the other must use ordinary care for himself.