Dillon v. Twin State Gas & Electric Co.
85 N.H. 449, 163 A. 111 (1932)

  • Twin State maintained uninsulated electrical wires across a bridge. Children enjoyed climbing on the bridge. Dillon, who was 14 at the time, climbed up, lost his balance, grabbed a wire, and was electrocuted. Dillon’s parents sued for negligence.
    • Twin State argued that if Dillon had not caught the wire, he would have surely fallen off the bridge and been killed. Therefore, he was dead either way, and there were no recoverable damages.
  • Twin State asked for a directed verdict, which was denied. They appealed.
    • A directed verdict basically says that based on the law, there is no way for the other side to win, so why bother with a trial?
      • If you buy Twin State’s reasoning that Dillon was dead either way, then it wouldn’t matter if Twin State was negligent.
  • The New Hampshire Supreme Court found against a directed verdict and remanded the case for a trial.
    • The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that whether Dillon would have fallen, and whether he would have been killed if he had fallen were questions of fact that a jury must decide. Therefore, no directed verdict.
  • Note that if the wire had been insulated, then perhaps Dillon would have grabbed it, not been electrocuted, and not fallen off the bridge. So maybe Twin State’s negligence in not insulating the wire was important and Dillon was not “dead either way.”
    • On the other hand, does Twin State have a duty to prevent people from falling off a bridge?
      • If Twin State insulated the wire, but it broke when Dillon grabbed it and he still fell, would they be negligent for not making stronger wires?
  • Note that the Court didn’t consider whether Dillon was contributorily negligent.
    • It had to be at least partially Dillon’s fault for playing on a dangerous bridge.
    • It probably didn’t come up in the case because contributory negligence is a defense. A defendant doesn’t bring it up until after the plaintiff has made a successful case that the defendant was negligent.