144 U.S. 408 (1892), 134, Grand Trunk Railway Company v. Ives

Docket Nº:No. 134
Citation:144 U.S. 408, 12 S.Ct. 679, 36 L.Ed. 485
Party Name:Grand Trunk Railway Company v. Ives
Case Date:April 04, 1892
Court:United States Supreme Court

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144 U.S. 408 (1892)

12 S.Ct. 679, 36 L.Ed. 485

Grand Trunk Railway Company



No. 134

United States Supreme Court

April 4, 1892

Argued January 4-5, 1892




When, in an action brought against a railroad company in Michigan by the administrator of a person killed by one of its trains to recover damages for the killing, the record in this Court fails to show that any exception was taken at the trial, based upon the lack of evidence to show that he left someone dependent upon him for support, or some one who had a reasonable expectation of receiving some benefit from him during his lifetime, as required by the laws of that state (Howell's Ann.Stat. §§ 3391, 3392), the objection is not before this Court for consideration.

The terms "ordinary care," "reasonable prudence," and similar terms have a relative significance depending upon the special circumstances and surroundings of the particular case.

When a given state of facts is such that reasonable men may fairly differ upon the question as to whether there was negligence or not, the determination of the matter is for the jury; but where the facts are such that all reasonable men must draw the same conclusion from them, the question of negligence is one of law, for the court.

The running of a railroad train within the limits of a city at a greater speed than is permitted by the city ordinances is a circumstance from which negligence may be inferred in case an injury is inflicted upon a person by the train.

Whether ordinary care or reasonable prudence requires a railroad company to keep a flagman stationed at a crossing that is especially dangerous is a question of fact for a jury, although in some cases it has been held to be a question of law for the court.

Where the statutes of a state make provisions in regard to flagmen at

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crossings, this Court will follow the construction given to such statutes by its courts, and, so following the decisions of the courts of the State of Michigan, it is held that the duty to provide flagmen or gates, or other adequate warnings or appliances, may exist outside of the statute if the situation of the crossing reasonably requires it.

The giving of an erroneous instruction which was not prejudicial to the objecting party is not reversible error.

In an action against a railroad company to recover for injuries caused by the negligence of its servants the determination of the fact of whether the person injured was guilty of contributory negligence is a question of fact for the jury.

In such case, if the proximate and immediate cause of the injury can be traced to the want of ordinary care and caution in the person injured, an action for the injury cannot be maintained unless it further appear that the defendant might, by the exercise of reasonable care and prudence, have avoided the consequences of the injured party's negligence.

In determining whether the injured party in such case was guilty of contributory negligence, the jury is bound to consider all the facts and circumstances bearing upon the question, and not select one particular fact or circumstance as controlling the case to the exclusion of all others.

The case is stated in the opinion.

LAMAR, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE LAMAR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was an action by Albert Ives, Jr., as administrator of the estate of Elijah Smith, deceased, against the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada, a Canadian corporation operating a line of railroad in Michigan, to recover damages for the alleged wrongful and negligent killing of plaintiff's intestate, without fault on his own part, by the railway company at a street crossing in the City of Detroit. It was commenced in a state court, and was afterwards removed into the federal court on the ground of diverse citizenship. The action was brought under §§ 3391 and 3392 of Howell's Annotated Statutes of Michigan, and, as stated in the declaration, was for the benefit of three daughters and one son of the deceased, whose names were given.

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There was a trial before the court and a jury, resulting in a verdict and judgment in favor of the plaintiff for $5,000, with interest from the date of the verdict to the time the judgment was entered. The plaintiff offered to remit the interest, but the court refused to allow it to be done. The defendant then sued out this writ of error.

On the trial the plaintiff, to sustain the issues on his part, offered evidence tending to prove the following facts: Elijah Smith, plaintiff's intestate at the time of his death, in May, 1884, was about 75 years of age, and had been residing on a farm, a few miles out of the City of Detroit, for several years, being engaged in grape culture. It was his custom to make one or more trips to the city every day during that period. In going to the city, he traveled eastwardly on a much traveled road, known as the "Holden Road," which, continued into the city, becomes an important and well known street running east and west. Within the limits of the city, the street was crossed obliquely at a grade, by the defendant's road and two other parallel roads coming up from the southwest, which roads, in the language of the defendant's engineer, curve "away from a person coming down the Holden Road." At the crossing the Holden Road is sixty-five and one-half feet wide. The defendant's right of way is forty feet wide, and the right of way of all the parallel railways at that place is one hundred sixty feet wide.

For a considerable distance, at least three hundred feet, along the right side of the road going into the city, there were obstructions to a view of the railroad consisting of a house known as the "McLaughlin house," a barn and its attendant outbuildings, an orchard in full bloom, and, about seventy-six feet from the defendant's track, another house, known as the "Lawrence house." Then there were some shrub bushes, or, as described by one witness, some stunted locust trees and a willow, a short distance from the line of the right of way. So that it seems from all the evidence introduced on this point that it was not until a traveler was within fifteen or twenty feet of the track, and then going up the grade, that he could get an unobstructed view of the track to the right. One

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witness testified that, if he was in a buggy, his horse would be within eight feet of the track before he could get a good view of it in both directions.

On the morning of the fatal accident, Mr. Smith and his wife were driving down the Holden Road into Detroit in a buggy with the top raised and with the side curtains either raised or removed. Opposite the Lawrence house they stopped several minutes, presumably to listen for any trains that might be passing, and while there, a train on one of the other roads passed by, going out of the city. Soon after it had crossed the road, and while the noise caused by it was still quite distinct, they drove on toward their destination. Just as they had reached the defendant's track, and while apparently watching the train that had passed, they were struck by one of the defendant's trains coming from the right at the rate of at least twenty -- some of the witnesses say forty -- miles an hour, and were thrown into the air, carried some distance, and instantly killed. This train was a transfer train between two junctions, and was not running on any schedule time. The plaintiff's witnesses agree substantially in saying that the whistle was not blown for this crossing, nor was the bell rung, and that no signal whatever of the approach of the train was given until it was about to strike the buggy in which Mr. Smith and his wife were riding. The train ran on some four hundred feet or more after striking Mr. Smith before it could be stopped.

It further appeared that an ordinance of the City of Detroit required railroad trains within its limits to run at a rate not exceeding six miles an hour, and it likewise appeared that there was no flagman [12 S.Ct. 681] or anyone stationed at this crossing to warn travelers of approaching trains.

Most of the witnesses for the defense, consisting, for the main part, of its employees aboard the train at the time of the accident, testified, substantially that the ordinary signals of blowing the whistle and ringing the bell were given before reaching the crossing, and that in their opinion the train was not moving faster than six miles an hour. It must be stated, however, that some of the defendant's witnesses -- the brakeman,

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among others -- would not say that the ordinary signals were given, nor would they testify that the train was not moving faster than at the rate prescribed by the city ordinance, and one of its witnesses, in particular, testified that the train was moving "about twenty miles an hour, perhaps a little faster."

A witness called by the plaintiff in rebuttal, an engineer of forty-five years' standing, who was examined as an expert, testified that if the train ran on, after striking Mr. Smith, the distance it was said to have gone before it could be stopped, it must have been going at the rate of twenty-five or thirty miles an hour, and that if it had been going but six miles an hour, as claimed by the defendant, it could have been stopped in the length of the engine, and even without brakes would not have run more than thirty-five feet if reversed.

The foregoing embraces the substance of all the evidence set forth in the bill of exceptions on the question of how the fatal accident occurred, and with respect to the alleged negligence of the defendant in the premises and also the alleged contributory...

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