Contributory Negligence – Duty of Pedestrian to Look While Crossing Intersection with Light

The plaintiff was crossing a busy intersection in reliance on a green traffic light in his favor when he was struck by defendant’s automobile. Testifying in his own behalf, plaintiff said that he waited until the light changed to green and traffic on both sides stopped before proceeding to cross the street. He further stated that he was hit just before reaching the other side of the street. He did not see defendant’s automobile before it struck him. At the conclusion of this testimony defendant moved for a directed verdict on the ground that plaintiff had failed to show freedom from contributory negligence. The trial court granted the motion as there was no testimony that plaintiff made continual observations after he started to cross. The circuit court, on appeal, reversed and remanded for a new trial: the uncontradicted testimony showed plaintiff was crossing on the green light and hence a prima facie case was made. On appeal, the circuit court was affirmed by an equally divided court. A pedestrian starting to cross when the light has turned green cannot be held contributorily negligent as a matter of law for failure to observe approaching traffic. The justices voting for reversal thought that the plaintiff, in failing to make further observations of the light and traffic after starting to cross the street, did not exercise due care for his own safety and hence was contributorily negligent as a matter of law. Ortisi v. Oderfer, 341 Mich. 254, 67 N. W. (2d) 153 (1954).