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The Melvin Newberger Versus Willard Pokrass Case Coursework

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Updated: Mar 17th, 2022


In this case between Melvin Newberger verses Willard Pokrass, Newberger is the plaintiff and is required to prove the fact of negligence on the part of Pokrass who was the pilot of the aircraft that crashed with both of them on board together with another friend Barbara Seely. The elements that are reflecting some negligence in this case are duty and how it is breached, the resultant damages and causation of the accident. Duty in this scenario implies the ability of seeing harm before hand and avoiding causing any harm to others. Any defendant in a case is said to have breached duty towards the plaintiff if the standards of the way he has conducted himself in the given situation are below the expected standards of him. Causation in law deals with the effects and cause of a given happening. It compares the aftermath of a breach of duty and the situation if there was no breach of duty in reference to the damages suffered by the plaintiff. Damages refer to the injuries as a result of the accident which are dealt with by the law through compensation and among them are mental distress, physical incapacitation and other forms of suffering.

The liability on the side of the defendant may be reduced if it is proved that the negligence of the plaintiff was also a cause of the accident. This is contributory negligence which is used in defending oneself according to the law against a claim made claim. It only applies in a situation when the negligence on the side of a plaintiff contributed to an accident which was although caused by the negligence of defendant. Res ipsa loquitur is a word in Latin language that is legal which means: “the thing itself speaks” which can be interpreted as “the thing speaks for itself”. It implies that there is no need for farther details when there is a self evident proof for the case. This doctrine is normally used in claims that are tort which need no more explanation beyond the liability establishment point. There are three elements which qualify the use of res ipsa loquitur in a given case: An accident does not usually just occur without some form of negligence on one of the persons involved, the defendant was fully and all alone in control of the instrumentality that was involved in the accident and finally, the accident was not caused by the fault of the plaintiff.


In this case filed against Pokrass, he had a duty to ensure that all his passengers were safe. His negligence made him to have a breach in his duty: firstly, he flew the aircraft at a very low altitude despite the hilly terrain. Secondly, he had a faulty altimeter in that he flew at 170 feet lower than what the altimeter showed. Besides neglecting the weather reports, he also flew altitudes that were very low in relation to the turbulent weather and winds. He also fell asleep when piloting and all this are the core causes of the crash and consequent damages. Due to the fact that all the two passengers together with the pilot were all asleep, there cannot be any concrete evidence of what transpired before the accident and therefore no proper proof of negligence on the part of the defendant. The facts found out about the accident, after some investigations were done by the CAB, were also used to provide some evidence in the case. The conclusions of the CAB could not be directly taken as true since the final decision of what happened lied with the jury though in consideration of the CAB findings of the altimeter having been set incorrectly. Unless the accident had been caused by the effect of weather factors, negligence cannot be assumed when the pilot ignored the weather reports. It was also not necessarily negligence when the low course was set over the hilly terrain unless the terrain was hit during the accident. If the terrain was hit, it is the failure of maintenance of a clearance that can be termed negligence and not the setting of the course. The only thing that can justifiably be termed negligence is the falling asleep of the pilot and only after being proved.

Tediousness was a common factor between the plaintiff and the defendant since it was at night and Newberger claimed to be tired meaning Pokrass must have also been equally tired. It was therefore a breach of duty on Newberger’s side having slept instead of being awake to ensure that the pilot was also awake hence avoiding the accident. The jury therefore, found the plaintiff 15 percent guilty of having directly caused the accident. This is as a result of his contributory negligence where he did not take full responsibility on his part. Since the accident was not caused because of mechanical problems of the aircraft, it was therefore concluded that human fault was the sole cause of the accident. The case was therefore a res ipsa loquitur since the report from the Civil Aeronautics Board had no little evidence to be admitted. Only their factual findings had enough evidence to be admitted hence the conclusions of the case by the jury were out of, evidence.


The defendant in this case, Pokrass had to compensate the plaintiff who is Newberger because of negligence even though the plaintiff was also answerable for a part of the damages caused because of his contributory negligence. This is because the staying awake of Newberger was considered reasonable enough to ensure that the pilot remained awake and consequently the defendant’s liability was reduced. Finally, since the mechanical problems did not cause the accident as proven by CAB, the cause therefore solely remains to as a result of human fault. It is therefore evident that res ipsa loquitur applies in this case.

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