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The Saskatoon trolley case

December 3, 2014

By Alan Kilpatricktrolley1

Have you heard about the notorious Saskatoon trolley case?

Late on the summer evening of July 20th, 1949, a pedestrian named James Murray crossed the Saskatoon intersection of Second Avenue and 20th Street East.  While crossing from west to east on a marked crosswalk, Murray was abruptly struck by a south bound street car.  He soon died from the injuries sustained from the impact.  The street car, operated by the Saskatoon Street Railway, was driven by Steward Maxfield.

An eye witness saw Murray’s body thrown backward as a result of the impact.  Another witness exclaimed,

“Well he did  not seem to see the street car coming, he was walking rapidly; I take it he was trying to catch the bus and when he got in front of the street car he turned – seemed to notice it and it just – and it hit him on the left side.”

trolley2Murray’s widow brought an action against the city and alleged “that she and [her] children were dependent upon the deceased for support.”  It was purported that Stewart Maxwell was negligent for not maintaining a satisfactory look out, for driving the trolley too fast, and for failing to sound the warning gong.  Maxwell denied the claims and asserted Murray was negligent for failing to look before walking into a busy city intersection.

The plaintiff’s counsel rapidly admitted that the deceased Murray was guilty of contributory negligence for failing to look before walking forward into the intersection.  “The question for determination by the learned trial Judge was whether or not the defendant, by its employee, the operator of the south-bound street car, was also guilty of negligence.”  Surprisingly, Maxfield was not called forward as a witness and his counsel simply rested their case on the evidence already put forward by the plaintiff.  They asserted there was no evidence of Maxfield’s negligence while in operation of the street car.

Consequently, the Judge remarked,

“There are, in my opinion, no facts in the evidence which warrant an inference that the deceased, by his conduct, created an emergency which prevented the motorman from taking steps to avoid him. This is a matter of defence which might have been dealt with by the motorman had he been called…During the course of the argument considerable attention was devoted to the question of the effect which should be given to the action of a party in not calling a witness who could give evidence which it was in his power to give and by which the facts might be elucidated.”

Murray v. Saskatoon, 4 WWR (NS) 234, also known as the Saskatoon Trolley Case, has been cited frequently in recent years for its illuminative discussion of adverse inference.

(Reposted from Legal Sourcery)

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From → Historical case, Law

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