COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE AS A MATTER OF LAW

THE UNFAMILIAR PITCH BLACK ROOM OR HALLWAY


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ROBINSON UNFAMILIARITY AND DARKNESS RULE:

“Where an invitee on premises, [1] being unfamiliar therewith, and [2] proceeds into a place of impenetrable darkness and [3] falls into an aperture and is injured, as a matter of law he does not exercise ordinary care for his own safety and hence any injury he receives is the result of his own contributory negligence…”

The rule is thus accurately stated in volume I, Sherman & Redfield on Negligence (Revised ed. -- 1941), section 131, "A person who comes into an unfamiliar situation, where a condition of darkness renders the use of his eyesight ineffective to define his surroundings, is not justified, in the absence of any special stress of circumstances, in proceeding further, without first finding out where he is going and what may be the obstructions to his safe progress. Violation of that rule is contributory negligence as a matter of law."

 Robinson v. King (1952) 113 Cal. App. 2d 455 

Note: California now uses proportionate fault in Comparative Negligence cases.

The Robinson rule is not applicable where the invitee is familiar with the premises.

 Russo v. Burch (1964) 224 Cal. App. 2d 403 (See also DeGraf v. Anglo California Nat. Bank, 14 Cal.2d 87; and Hayes v. Richfield Oil Corp.  38 Cal.2d 375.)


Moreover, as indicated by the court in Hayes, the rule declared in Robinson, would not be applicable, although the premises are unfamiliar, where the area is merely dimly or poorly lighted, that is, where the circumstance of "impenetrable darkness" does not exist.

Hayes v. Richfield Oil Corp. (1952) 38 Cal.2d 375 (See also McLaughlin v. City of Los Angeles,60 Cal.App.2d 241; and Rau v. Redwood City Woman's Club 111 Cal.App.2d 546).


See examples of Robinson Rule cases at Inadequate Lighting of Premises.


Note:

The courts in this state are reluctant to hold that contributory negligence exists as a matter of law. [See Florez v. Groom Development Co., 53 Cal.2d 347, 357 ; McLaughlin v. City of Los Angeles, 60 Cal.App.2d 241, 244; Atherley v. MacDonald, Young & Nelson, Inc., 142 Cal.App.2d 575, 585 ; Lokey v. Pine Mountain Lbr. Co., 205 Cal.App.2d 522, 529 .]

Indeed, the negligence of the plaintiff contributes proximately to the accident as a matter of law are rare.[Anthony v. Hobbie, 25 Cal.2d 814, 818 ; Kirk v. Los Angeles Ry. Corp., 26 Cal.2d 833, 838) ]

The applicable rule is stated thusly in Anthony: "[Contributory] negligence is not established as a matter of law unless the only reasonable hypothesis is that such negligence exists; that reasonable or sensible men could have drawn that conclusion and none other; that where there are different inferences that may be drawn, one for and one against, the one against will be followed; and that before it can be held as a matter of law that contributory negligence exists, the evidence must point unerringly to that conclusion." (P. 818.)

To err in judgment does not necessarily mean that the person has been negligent. [Russo v. Burch (1964) 224 Cal. App. 2d 403; See also Glover v. Los Angeles Ry. Corp., 72 Cal.App.2d 187, 191].


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 Author: Attorney Matthew B. Tozer
 
Copyright 2012

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