Contributory Negligence

You Be The Judge -Case #1 – Your Opinion, Please!
Read the following scenario and answer the three questions after the scenario. Give the three questions some serious thought. You may also incorporate in your response to these questions information gained through your own experience if it is relevant.


Late Halloween night, Susan is walking home from a Halloween party along a road that is poorly lighted. She is still wearing her Halloween witch’s costume – a black dress and cape, black hat, black shoes, and black mask. She has no light clothing, no flashlight, nothing that would help make her visible to a driver.
William is driving home from another party along the same road. He has just discovered , upon leaving the party, that one of his headlights is burned out. He feels uncomfortable about driving that way, but reasons that since it is only a short way to his house, nothing is likely to happen. In any case at 11pm, there do not seem to be many alternatives.
Despite the problems he has seeing with only one headlight, William drives about five miles an hour over the speed limit. He isn’t intending to speed really , and in fact doesn’t even know what the speed limit is along this road. He is just driving at a pace that seems comfortable. Susan hears William’s car coming and tries to stay to the side of the road. She has a difficult time telling just where that is, but believes she is well to the edge. Nevertheless, as William rounds the corner, he is unable to take the curve quite sharply enough, sees Susan only at the last second because she is on the darker side where the light is out and can not avoid her altogether. Upon impact, Susan is thrown ten feet and suffers a broken shoulder and two broken legs. She sues for damages, accusing William of negligence. William counters that Susan is also responsible for the accident – perhaps even more responsible than he.

1. What is your opinion? Based on what you have read of the situation, do you think Susan is likely to be successful in her suit? Why or why not?
2. Can William successfully invoke the defense of contributory negligence? Explain.
3. What factors might an attorney cite in arguing against your opinion on this case?

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