Case Brief Wiki


Wagner and his cousin boarded a car at a station. The conductor did not close the doors of the car. The train turned a curve at six to eight miles per hour when a violent lurch threw Wagner's cousin out of the car, near the point where a trestle changed to a bridge. Someone cried "man overboard" and the car stopped near the foot of an incline. Wagner got out and walked 445 feet until he arrived at the bridge where he thought to find his cousin's body. Wagner claimed that he was asked to go there by the conductor. He claimed also that the conductor followed with a lantern. Wagner lost his footing in the dark, fell from the structure, and was injured. Wagner sued International Railway for his injuries. The trial judge instructed the jury that International Railway would not be liable for Wagner's injuries, unless Wagner had been invited by the conductor to go upon the bridge and the conductor had followed with a light. The jury found for International Railway which Wagner appealed.


  1. Is rescue a foreseeable act?


Appeal allowed.


Cardozo, writing for the court, states "the risk of rescue, if only it be not wanton, is born of the occasion” and “the state that leaves an opening in a bridge is liable to the child that falls into the stream, but liable also to the parent who plunges to its aid”, reaffirming the ratio in Haynes v Harwood. Continuity in such circumstances is not broken by the exercise of volition. Whether Wagner's cousin's fall was due to International Railway's negligence, and whether Wagner's attempted rescue was foolhardy or reasonable in the light of the emergency were both questions for the jury. In the case at bar, he found that Wagner's actions were reasonable in the circumstances and reversed the lower court's decision.


  • A tortfeasor is liable to all those who are injured in a reasonable rescue attempt.
  • A tortfeasor will not be held liable for injuries suffered by a rescuer if the rescue efforts were unreasonable.