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in the
Philosophy 22B

Yania v. Bigan (1959)

John Bigan owned a coal strip-mining operation in Somerset County in Pennsylvania. There were several large trenches in the earth on his property where Bigan had removed dirt to uncover and remove the coal underneath. Some of these trenches had filled with rain water. In one of them Bigan had installed a pump to drain the water.

The water was about 8 to 10 feet in depth and the dirt side-walls about 16 to 18 feet high. At around 4:00 p.m. on September 25, 1957 Joseph Yania, another strip mining operator, and Boyd Ross visited Bigan to discuss a business matter with him and while they were there, Bigan asked them to help him to start the pump. Ross and Bigan stood on one side of the trench and Yania stood atop the embankment on the other and Bigan urged him to jump into the water.

Bigan did not tell Yania that the water was 8 to 10 feet deep, although it is not clear whether Bigan himself knew the exact depth of the water in the cut. Bigan, however, did not warn Yania to be careful; he merely cajoled him to jump into the water, since the pump was submerged.

Yania jumped into the water and drowned. While Yania struggled, Bigan did not take steps to rescue him.

Yania's widow, in her own right and on behalf of her three children, instituted wrongful death proceedings against Bigan, alleging that Bigan negligently caused Yania's death: "(1) by urging, enticing, and inveigling Yania to jump into the water; (2) by failing to warn Yania of the dangerous condition of the cut wherein lay 8 to 10 feet of water; and (3) by failing to go to Yania's rescue after he had jumped into the water."

Did Bigan have a duty to warn Yania and/or to rescue him?

Click HERE to read the decision in THE ACTUAL CASE..

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Page last edited: February 1, 2000