238 U.S. 269 (1915), 779, Norfolk Southern Railroad Company v. Ferebee

Docket NºNo. 779
Citation238 U.S. 269, 35 S.Ct. 781, 59 L.Ed. 1303
Party NameNorfolk Southern Railroad Company v. Ferebee
Case DateJune 14, 1915
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 269

238 U.S. 269 (1915)

35 S.Ct. 781, 59 L.Ed. 1303

Norfolk Southern Railroad Company

v.

Ferebee

No. 779

United States Supreme Court

June 14, 1915

Argued April 23, 1915

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT

OF THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA

Syllabus

In the courts of North Carolina in an action under the Employers' Liability Act, there was a trial in which, under the state practice, the jury returned a special verdict finding that the Railroad Company was negligent and that plaintiff was not guilty of contributory negligence. The appellate court, on account of errors in the charge relating

Page 270

exclusively to the subject of damages, granted a partial new trial limited to the amount of damage, and on which the court refused to admit evidence as to plaintiff's contributory negligence. Held that:

A substantive right or defense under the federal law cannot be lessened or destroyed by a state rule of practice, and ordinarily damages and contributory negligence are so blended that only in rare instances can the question of amount of damages be submitted to the jury without also submitting the conduct of the plaintiff.

In this case, however, as defendant had not asked for a modification of the special verdict or to introduce newly discovered evidence, nor offered any such evidence on the second trial, the question of damages could be considered without also considering that of plaintiff's contributory negligence, as that question had been entirely eliminated from the case, and the defendant was not deprived of any federal right.

The practice of granting a partial new trial in actions under the Federal Employers' Liability Act is not to be commended.

167 N.C. 290 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the construction and application of the Federal Employers' Liability Act and the validity of a verdict and judgment in an action thereunder against the carrier, are stated in the opinion.

Page 271

LAMAR, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE LAMAR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Ferebee was employed by the Norfolk Southern Railroad Company as a train hand on a passenger train running from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Norfolk, Virginia. During the night at some place on [35 S.Ct. 782] the journey, the steps to the platform of one of the cars were torn away by coming in contact with some unknown obstruction. The consequence was that, when Ferebee attempted to alight at a station, he stepped from the platform to the ground, and received personal injuries for which he brought suit in the Superior Court of Wake County, North Carolina, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (35 Stat. 65). The company defended on the ground that the plaintiff had been guilty of contributory negligence in attempting to leave the car while it was in motion, in failing to hold on to the hand rail, in failing to use his lantern, and in failing to discover that the steps were missing. There was a trial in which, under the North Carolina practice, the jury returned a special verdict, finding, among other things, (1) that the railroad company was negligent, and (2) that the plaintiff was not guilty of contributory negligence.

Page 272

The case was then taken to the supreme court of the state, which, because of an error in the charge on the subject of damages, granted a partial new trial and remanded the case for a hearing in which the only question to be considered was the amount to be awarded the plaintiff. 163 N.C. 351.

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