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Choate v Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co.


12-year-old Dominic Choate decided to impress his friends and jump aboard a slow-moving freight train, despite their yelling at him to get away from the train. After two unsuccessful attempts, he made a third attempt that was not just unsuccessful, but disastrous: he fell, the train wheel ran over his foot, severing it above the toes, and resulting in an amputation below the knee. This was, he alleged in a lawsuit, the railroad's fault. Defendants asked for summary judgment, noting that not only was jumping on a train obviously dangerous, but Choate admitted he knew it was dangerous, but the trial court refused, and a jury held the railroad 60% liable for what it computed to be $6.5 million in damages. An intermediate appellate court affirmed, despite a WLF amicus brief. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed last week: a landowner owes no duty to trespassers, and while it owes a duty to children to warn them of latent harms that a child might not reasonably apprehend, it owes no duty with respect to obvious harms. [WLF]


It seems like a pretty standard attractive nuisance case. Laws and their interpretation vary by state.

These cases are covered in ALR 4th 294 which is said to supersede 32 ALR 3rd 508, and Am Jur 2nd Premises Liability (Age of Appreciation) and Am Jur 2nd Railroads.

Agreed. Pretty standard and fairly straightforward as well. Haven't read the lower courts' opinions, but one has to wonder why they got it so wrong.

The reference cited supra should read "22 ALR 4th 294 which supersedes 32 ALR 3rd 508."

I found a couple of others. 70 ALR 3rd 1125 which is pretty short.

And "Age and Mentality of Child in Applying Nuisance Doctrine" 16 ALR 3rd 25. It has a lot of cases and is from 1967.

Here is a tip: You can google those old cases and if they have been cited in more recent decisions, the new case will usually come up. It works about 90% of the time and saves buying updates.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


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