Butterfield v. Forrester

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

Quick Summary

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Mr. Forrester (D), a homeowner, was repairing his house. Unfortunately, he blocked a route with a pole during maintenance. Travelers might easily avoid the pole, but  Mr. Butterfield (P) was speeding on his horse and hit it. The crash threw him off his horse and injured him. Butterfield sued Forrester for damage, but the trial court ruled in favor of Forrester (P) based on contributory negligence and stated the plaintiff would have easily avoided the pole if he wasn’t going too fast and performed reasonable care. Butterfield appealed the verdict.

The issue at hand was whether the plaintiff was liable for damages for the negligent conduct of the defendant.

The court ruled that the defendant was not liable for the damages because the plaintiff was negligent in his conduct. The obstacle wouldn’t have hurt him if he had been riding properly and performed reasonable care.

Rule of Law

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If a person did not use reasonable care, he could not seek damages from the loss incurred.

Facts of the Case

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Forrester (the defendant), who lives adjacent to the road, was repairing his house. During the maintenance, he blocked a section of the road with a pole. There was ample space left for travelers to avoid the pole and bypass it. Butterfield (the plaintiff) was speeding down the road on his horse and collided with it. Due to the collision, he was thrown from his horse and sustained injuries. Butterfield filed a lawsuit against Forrester to recover damages.

Trial testimony indicated that Butterfield was not impaired throughout this trip. There was, however, an eyewitness who testified that he would have been able to notice and avoid the obstacle if he had not traveled at such a high speed. At trial, the judge instructed the jury to find in favor of Forrester if they determined that a careful rider could have avoided colliding with the pole and if they determined that Butterfield was riding at excessive speed and without due caution. The jury reached these conclusions, and Butterfield filed an appeal.


Issue Icon

Is the defendant responsible for injuries caused by the plaintiff’s carelessness when he could have avoided the injuries by taking reasonable and ordinary care?

Holding and Conclusion

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The court dismissed the case and made it clear that the only person to blame was the plaintiff. If he had been riding right, he would have seen the obstacle and not been hurt. So, the defendant can’t be blamed for an injury partly caused by the plaintiff’s carelessness. The plaintiff would have seen the obstacle if he had been paying reasonable attention, so the accident was all his fault. 

Reasoning and Analysis

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The court decided that the plaintiff had failed to exercise reasonable care, and he was consequently precluded from recovering damages. The case establishes Contributory Negligence from the ground up, which asserts that negligence/ignorance/carelessness counts even if the injured party is negligent/ignorant/careless. It eliminates the notion that the negligence of a single person is decisive and permits individuals to exercise basic caution before assigning entire blame. As a result, it serves as a shield in certain circumstances of negligence when the defendant lacks fundamental care and eventually overlaps the plaintiff’s fault due to this conduct.

On appeal, the court sided with Forrester and dismissed the lawsuit. However, since Butterfield was speeding and could have avoided the obstruction with reasonable care, Bayley J found that he was solely responsible for the accident.

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