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Violation of Statutes and Other Enactments

Actionable negligence is the breach of a legal duty owing to a party that was injured.  In order to prove negligence, a plaintiff must show that defendant owed him/her a legal duty.  When a statute or ordinance is enacted for the benefit or protection of the injured person, the violation of a statute or other enactment of similar force is negligence.  A proof that a defect or dangerous condition in the premises was created or maintained in violation of a statute, or of an enactment of similar force, is sufficient to establish the occupant’s negligence, or to raise a presumption of negligence.

It is not sufficient to show that the defendants owed a duty to the state or some third party, but the duty must be one which is owed directly to the claimant party[i].

Most of the state statutes require that an employer maintain a safe working environment.  “Every employer and owner of a public building is to provide a place that is safe for employees and for frequenters of that place, and every employer and every owner of a place of employment or a public building shall so construct, repair or maintain such place of employment or public building as to render the same safe”[ii].  This duty has a higher standard of care than that imposed by common-law negligence[iii].

The State, as owner and maintainer of land for public use, would exercise reasonable care to prevent, or to warn against, dangers to claimant and others coming upon the land which the State’s agents knew, or should have known, existed[iv].

All persons, firms or corporations owning or being in possession of land upon which there is located an abandoned well or cesspool must cover the same with suitable protective construction.  The person who omits to comply with these rules is guilty of a misdemeanor[v].

When there is a violation of a specific statutory duty of the employer to fence or guard machinery declared by law to be dangerous, the employer, and not the workman, assumes the risk of injury to the workman[vi].

However, the safe-place statute addresses unsafe conditions, not negligent acts.  In addition, the law does not require an employer or an owner of a public building to be insurers of frequenters of the premises[vii].

The right of action for damages for an injury resulting from the breach of a statutory duty depends upon the legislative intent in adopting the particular enactment.  The general rule is that when a statute requires an act to be done by one person for the benefit of another, and an injury is sustained by one intended to be protected by reason of a violation of such statutory duty, an action lies in favor of the latter against the former for the neglect to perform such duty, even though the statute provides no special remedy.

The violation of a statute designed to protect human life or property is prima facie evidence of negligence.  A party injured by such a violation can recover by showing that:

  • the violation proximately caused the injury;
  • the statute was intended to protect individuals from the kind of injury suffered; and
  • the injured party belonged to the class of persons whom the rule was intended to protect from injury[viii].


[i] O’Leary v. Brooks Elevator Co., 7 N.D. 554, 564 (N.D. 1898).

[ii] Wis. Stat. § 101.11.

[iii] Dykstra v. Arthur G. McKee & Co., 92 Wis. 2d 17, 26 (Wis. Ct. App. 1979).

[iv] People v. Sandgren, 302 N.Y. 331, 339 (N.Y. 1951).

[v] NY CLS Gen Const § 37.

[vi] Monteith v. Kokomo Wood Enameling Co., 159 Ind. 149, 154-155 (Ind. 1902).

[vii] Strack v. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 35 Wis. 2d 51, 54 (Wis. 1967).

[viii] Quinn v. Sigma Rho Chapter of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, 155 Ill. App. 3d 231, 238 (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dist. 1987).

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