Perkins v. Texas and New Orleans R. Co.

243 La. 829 (1962).

Plaintiff (Perkins) won in both trial and appellate court before this appeal.


Whether the speed of the train caused the fatal accident?


Negligence is not actionable if there is no cause. In other words, the negligence must actually cause the event.


Not sufficient evidence to say the excessive speed caused the accident.


There was a train crossing in a town. Nearby the crossing there was a warehouse that blocks the view of the train. Several train personnel noticed a car begin to cross the tracks too late because of this obstruction. Both passengers were struck by the train and killed before the train had time to stop. It is important to note that the train was speeding (37 when they should have been going 25). We do not know exactly how fast the car was moving.


Train was negligent, but there needs to be a cause to be found liable.

To determine if there was a cause, we need to see if the event would have occurred anyways had there been no negligence. Because the train speed limit was 25 and was going 35, we need to see if the the train would have been able to stop in time had it been going 25 miles per hour. The evidence is no, the momentum would have carried the train well beyond the place where the accident occurred.

Neither can the plaintiff rely on an “escape” theory, meaning they had time to escape had the train been going the proper speed limit. This is because the evidence is so controversial about how fast the car was moving. Therefore, the evidence cannot be admitted and the train (although negligent) cannot legally be the cause of death.


Negligence + Cause = Liability

Additional Notes

There is no doubt that the plaintiff would have been aware of the incoming train. He would have been contributorily negligent as a matter of law. So, we are trying to determine if the railroad was negligent enough to cause the accident. They were speeding, and thus negligent, but did their speeding cause the accident?

Sine Qua Non translates to “without which, not”. This is the “but for” test of causation. Even if we assume that they were negligent, we need to prove that their negligence caused the injury.

What is our legal rule for causation: “The injury would not have occurred but for the negligence of the defendant.” The injury must be a direct result of the negligence. If the accident would have occurred regardless of the negligence, there is no causation. We need to ask, “would it have made any difference if there was no negligence?”


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Categories: 1L Fall, Torts

Will Laursen

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