Bernier v. Boston Edison Co.
380 Mass. 372, 403 N.E.2d 391 (1980)

  • Bernier and Kasputys were walking down the street where (after a complicated series of events), a car driven by Ramsdell jumped a curb and knocked down a light pole, which fell and injured the two.
  • Bernier sued the light pole owner, Boston Edison, for negligence.
    • They argued that Boston Edison had negligently designed, constructed, and maintained the pole.
  • The Trial Court found for Bernier. Boston Edison appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that, based on the pole’s location next to the street, it was reasonably foreseeable that it might be hit by a car. Therefore, Boston Edison had a duty to insure that the pole wouldn’t fall over if it got hit by a car.
      • The Court noted that cars are designed with safety features to take into account “foreseeable participation in collisions.”
      • The Court noted that there was nothing in Edison’s records to show that they had ever considered vehicular collisions in their choice of poles.
      • The Court noted that there were other pole designs available that would have survived the impact. Edison hadn’t even considered using one of those designs.
  • Boston Edison unsuccessfully argued that if they made the pole stronger, there was a greater risk of injury to the driver who struck the pole. Therefore, they had to make a decision on who was more likely to be involved in an accident. However, they didn’t have any evidence that they had really made their decision based on this. You can’t come up with a reason for your decision in hindsight. In order to not be negligent you have to show that you reasonably considered the problem prior to the accident.
    • Btw, Boston Edison had a good point, far more drivers hit poles than pedestrians are hit by falling poles.
    • Boston Edison’s argument is known as the polycentric problem. Sometimes no matter what you do it is going to make an accident worse for somebody. But in order to be not negligent you have to show that you at least reasonably considered all the consequences of your decision.