Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. v. Goodman

275 U.S. 66 (1927)

Quick Summary

Nathan Goodman (deceased) was struck by a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company (defendant) train at a crossing where his view was obstructed. His widow (plaintiff) sued the railroad company for wrongful death. The dispute centered on whether Goodman was negligent for not stopping to check for an oncoming train.

The lower courts sided with Goodman’s widow, but the Supreme Court reversed this decision. The Court concluded that Goodman was negligent and thus responsible for his own death because he failed to take adequate safety measures at the crossing.

Facts of the Case

Nathan Goodman (deceased) was struck and killed by a train while driving a truck over railroad tracks owned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company (defendant). The incident occurred during the day, and Goodman was familiar with the crossing. His visibility was obstructed by a nearby building, preventing him from seeing the oncoming train until he was very close to the tracks.

Despite slowing down, he did not stop or exit his vehicle to check for trains, and subsequently, his truck was hit by a train traveling at a high speed. Goodman’s widow (plaintiff) initiated a lawsuit against the railroad company, claiming it was responsible for her husband’s death.

The railroad company argued that Goodman’s negligence in failing to take proper precautions at the crossing caused his own death. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and the appellate court upheld the decision, leading to the railroad company’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The case was initially tried in a lower court where Goodman’s widow won.
  2. The decision was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals.
  3. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether Nathan Goodman’s failure to stop and check for an oncoming train before proceeding onto the railroad tracks constituted negligence on his part, absolving the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company of liability for his death.

Rule of Law

Individuals must exercise due care when approaching railroad crossings, which includes stopping and looking for oncoming trains when one’s view is obstructed and it is not otherwise clear whether a train is dangerously near. Failure to take these precautions constitutes negligence.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court held that when an individual approaches a railroad crossing, they are aware of the inherent dangers, such as being struck by an oncoming train if they remain on the tracks.

The Court reasoned that it is the responsibility of the individual to ensure their safety by stopping and looking for trains, or in cases where visibility is limited, physically checking beyond their line of sight.  In Goodman’s case, relying solely on auditory signals without further safety measures was deemed insufficient and negligent.

The Court established a clear standard of conduct for such situations, asserting that individuals must stop and look, or take additional precautions to avoid an accident.


The judgment of the lower courts was reversed, with the Supreme Court finding that Nathan Goodman was negligent for not taking adequate precautions at the railroad crossing, thus absolving Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company from liability for his death.

Key Takeaways

  1. Individuals are responsible for their own safety when approaching railroad crossings and must take appropriate precautions.
  2. Reliance solely on auditory cues without visual confirmation at a railroad crossing is insufficient and constitutes negligence.
  3. The Supreme Court can establish clear standards of conduct in cases where safety procedures should be universally understood and applied.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What duty of care must a pedestrian exercise when crossing unguarded railway tracks?

Pedestrians are obligated to exercise reasonable care for their own safety, which includes stopping, looking, and listening for oncoming trains before crossing unguarded railway tracks. This is essential as railways are inherently dangerous environments where trains have limited ability to stop quickly.

  • For example: Before crossing train tracks in a park without signals, a pedestrian should remove earbuds, look both ways multiple times, and listen carefully to ensure no trains are approaching.

In what scenarios can reliance on sensory perception alone be considered insufficient for safety?

Reliance on sensory perception alone is insufficient for safety when environmental factors impede the ability to accurately detect danger, such as visual obstructions or loud ambient noise that might drown out auditory signals.

  • For example: At a busy construction site, a worker cannot solely depend on hearing to notice an incoming forklift and must visually check their surroundings constantly.

How does contributory negligence impact the outcome of a civil lawsuit for personal injury?

Contributory negligence can completely bar recovery in a personal injury lawsuit if the plaintiff is found to have contributed to their own harm through their negligent actions, even if the defendant is also at fault.

  • For example: If a jaywalker is hit by a car speeding in a residential area, the pedestrian’s recovery could be denied on the grounds of contributory negligence for failing to cross at a marked crosswalk.


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