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Buchner v. Erie Railroad Co.

Decided: January 24, 1955.

WILLIAM L. BUCHNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ERIE RAILROAD COMPANY, A CORPORATION OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND BOROUGH OF RIDGEFIELD, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT



On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Wachenfeld, Jacobs and Brennan. For affirmance -- Justices Oliphant and Burling. The opinion of the court was delivered by Wachenfeld, J.

Wachenfeld

[17 NJ Page 284] In the evening of December 5, 1950 the plaintiff William L. Buchner boarded a train operated by the defendant Erie Railroad Company at Jersey City, destined for Ridgefield, New Jersey. The train arrived at the defendant's station in Ridgefield at 5:31 P.M., and plaintiff debarked, finding the station and the adjacent area "pitch

black." The absence of illumination was attributable to a severe storm about ten days earlier which had damaged and rendered useless the public utility power lines.

The general direction of the railroad tracks lay northsouth, and upon leaving the station platform by means of an entrance way provided for that purpose, plaintiff walked in a northeasterly direction across an asphalt-paved area immediately adjacent to the station platfrom, his objective being to reach the sidewalk which bounded the paved area. According to the testimony, the route taken by the plaintiff on this occasion was customarily used by defendant's passengers as a means of egress from the station. The paved area was owned by the defendant but was leased to the Borough of Ridgefield and was used as a parking lot for the patrons of the railroad and the general public.

As plaintiff neared the sidewalk, he tripped and fell over a curbstone which projected into the paved area. The curbstone, as subsequently proven, lay exactly 1.8 feet beyond the property line of the defendant but between that property line and the sidewalk. The asphalt paving which covered the parking lot extended across the railroad property to the concrete sidewalk, and the property line was not marked or indicated on the pavement. The railroad did not own and did not construct or maintain the curb, the sidewalk or the street lights which illuminated the station area.

For the physical injuries sustained as a result of his fall, plaintiff brought an action against both the municipality and the railroad. At the trial, following the presentation of plaintiff's proofs which established the facts related above, the court granted motions for judgment on behalf of each defendant. The plaintiff appealed only from the judgment entered in favor of the railroad, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The cause comes to us by way of certification. Buchner v. Erie R.R. Co., 16 N.J. 196 (1954).

The basic question with which we are here concerned is the duty of the proprietor of premises to which the public is invited. The proprietor owes a duty to exercise reasonable

care to see that those who enter the premises as a result of the invitation have a reasonably safe place to do that which is within the scope of the invitation. That duty is satisfied when reasonable care has been used to maintain the premises in question in a condition reasonably safe for the invitee's proper use. Bohn v. Hudson & Manhattan R.R. Co., 16 N.J. 180, 181 (1954).

In the case of a common carrier, the duty imposed requires not only that the transportation vehicle be kept safe, but that a safe means of ingress and egress be maintained for the use of the passengers. That duty was succintly defined in Delaware, L. & W.R.R. Co. v. Trautwein, 52 N.J.L. 169, 175 (E. & A. 1889), as follows:

"The duty of a railroad company, as a carrier of passengers, does not end when the passenger is safely carried to the place of his destination. The company must also provide safe means for access to and from its station for the use of passengers, and passengers have a right to assume that the means of access provided are reasonably safe."

The Appellate Division, while recognizing the obligation of a common carrier to provide a safe means of ingress and egress for its passengers, held in the case at hand that the defendant's duty terminated at the boundary line of its property ...


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