321 U.S. 29 (1944), 94, Tennant v. Peoria & Pekin Union Railway Co.

Docket NºNo. 94
Citation321 U.S. 29, 64 S.Ct. 409, 88 L.Ed. 520
Party NameTennant v. Peoria & Pekin Union Railway Co.
Case DateJanuary 17, 1944
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 29

321 U.S. 29 (1944)

64 S.Ct. 409, 88 L.Ed. 520



Peoria & Pekin Union Railway Co.

No. 94

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 17, 1944

Argued December 15, 1943




1. In this suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act to recover for the death of an employee, there was evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer that failure to ring the bell before starting the locomotive was negligence of the defendant and that that negligence was the proximate cause of the death, and a judgment for the defendant notwithstanding a verdict for the plaintiff deprived the latter of the right to trial by jury. P. 33.

2. A court is not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or conclusions, or because the court regards another result as more reasonable. P. 35.

134 F.2d 860 reversed.

Certiorari, 320 U.S. 721, to review the reversal of a judgment for the plaintiff in an action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

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MURPHY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action was instituted by petitioner, who is the administratrix of the estate and the widow of the deceased Harold C. Tennant, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.1 Recovery was sought for the alleged wrongful death of Tennant during the course of his employment as a member of a switching crew in one of respondent's railroad switching yards. The case was submitted to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of petitioner and awarded her damages of $26,250. The District Court entered judgment accordingly. On appeal by respondent, the court below reversed this judgment after finding that, while there was evidence of negligence by respondent, there was no substantial proof that this negligence was the proximate cause of Tennant's death. 134 F.2d 860. It held that the District Court should have directed a verdict in favor of respondent or allowed its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. We granted certiorari because of important problems as to petitioner's right to a jury determination of the issue of causation.

Tennant was employed as a switchman in the "B" yard of respondent's switching yards in East Peoria, Illinois. He had worked there for several years, and had been attached to the particular five-man switching crew for several months prior to the fatal accident. On the night of July 12, 1940, this crew was engaged in one of its nightly tasks of coupling freight cars and removing them from track B-28. The electric Diesel engine used by the crew was brought down from the north through divide switch B-28 and onto track B-28, which extended straight north and south. The front or pilot end of the engine was headed south. There were about twenty cars in various

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groups on track B-28 at that time; they were to be coupled together and moved northward out of track B-28 to other locations.

In the course of these coupling operations, the engine stopped and started six or eight times, gradually moving southward. After all twenty cars had been coupled, the engine remained stationary for five or ten minutes before the engineer received the backup signal from Harkless, the foreman. The engineer testified that the engine at this point was standing about 5 or 6 car lengths south of switch B-28, a car length approximately forty feet. There was other testimony, however, indicating that the engine was seven or eight car lengths south of the switch. While thus waiting for the backup signal, the engineer saw Tennant on the west side of the engine placing his raincoat in a clothes compartment beneath the cab window. After putting on a cap and jacket, he walked around the north or rear end of the engine and was never seen alive after that.

There was no direct evidence as to Tennant's precise location at the moment he [64 S.Ct. 411] was killed. There was some evidence to indicate that he never walked back on either side of the engine. It was his duty as a switchman or pin-puller to stay ahead of the engine as it moved back out of track B-28, protect it from other train movements, and attend to the switches.

The engine then pulled the twenty cars out of track B-28. The fact that Tennant was missing was first noticed when the engine reached a point some distance north of switch B-28. An investigation revealed blood marks on the west rail of track B-28 some 315 feet, or about seven or eight car lengths, south of switch B-28. There was a pool of blood a foot and a half north of those marks; near by, between the rails, were Tennant's right hand, his cap and his lighted lantern. His body was found at switch B-28, while his head was discovered

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about fourteen car lengths north and west of that switch. An examination of the engine and cars disclosed only a tiny bit of flesh on the outside rim of the north wheel of the third car from the engine. There was no evidence of his having slipped or fallen from any part of the engine or cars.

The case was submitted to the jury on the allegation that Tennant's death resulted from respondent's negligence in that its engineer backed the engine and cars northward out of track B-28 without first ringing the engine bell. The failure to ring the bell, which was not disputed, was alleged to be in violation of Rule 30 of respondent's rules for its employees. This rule provides that

The engine bell must be rung when an engine is about to move and while approaching and...

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