327 U.S. 645 (1946), 550, Lavender v. Kurn

Docket Nº:No. 550
Citation:327 U.S. 645, 66 S.Ct. 740, 90 L.Ed. 916
Party Name:Lavender v. Kurn
Case Date:March 25, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 645

327 U.S. 645 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 740, 90 L.Ed. 916




No. 550

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1946

Argued March 6, 7, 1946



1. In this action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, the evidence of the defendants' negligence (detailed in the opinion) was sufficient to justify submission of the case to the jury, and the judgment of the appellate court setting aside the verdict for the plaintiff cannot be sustained. P. 652.

2. There being a reasonable basis in the record for an inference by the jury that the injury resulted from the defendants' negligence, it is not within the province of the appellate court to weigh the conflicting evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, and arrive at a conclusion opposite from that reached by the jury. P. 652.

3. In suits under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, the appellate court's function is exhausted when the evidentiary basis for the jury's verdict becomes apparent, it being immaterial that the court might draw a contrary inference or consider another conclusion more reasonable. P. 653.

4. Only when there is a complete absence of probative facts to support the conclusion reached by the jury does reversible error appear. P. 653.

5. The jury could reasonably have inferred from the evidence in this case that the place at which the employee of the carrier was working, though technically a public street, was unsafe, and that this circumstance contributed in part to the employee's death. P. 653.

6. In actions under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, rulings on the admissibility of evidence must normally be left to the sound discretion of the trial judge. P. 654.

354 Mo.196, 189 S.W.2d 253, reversed.

In a suit brought in a state court under the Federal Employers' Liability Act by petitioner against the respondents,

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a judgment for the petitioner was reversed by the Supreme Court of the State. This Court granted certiorari. 326 U.S. 713. Reversed, p. 654.

MURPHY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Federal Employers' Liability Act permits recovery for personal injuries to an employee of a railroad engaged in interstate commerce if such injuries result

in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment.

45 U.S.C. § 51.

Petitioner, the administrator of the estate of L. E. Haney, brought this suit under the Act against the respondent trustees of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company (Frisco) and the respondent Illinois Central Railroad Company. It was charged that Haney, while employed as a switchtender by the respondents in the switchyard of the Grand Central Station in Memphis, Tennessee, was killed as a result of respondents' negligence. Following a trial in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri, the jury returned a verdict in favor of petitioner, and awarded damages in the amount of

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$30,000. Judgment was entered accordingly. On appeal, however, the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the judgment, holding that there was no substantial evidence of negligence to support the submission of the case to the jury. 189 S.W.2d 253. We granted certiorari, 326 U.S. 713, to review the propriety of the Supreme Court's action under the circumstances of this case.

It was admitted that Haney was employed by the Illinois Central, or a subsidiary corporation thereof, as a switchtender in the railroad yards near the Grand Central Station, which was owned by the Illinois Central. His duties included the throwing of switches for the Illinois Central, as well as for the Frisco and other railroads using that station. For these services, the trustees of Frisco paid the Illinois Central two-twelfths of Haney's wages; they also paid two-twelfths of the wages of two other switch-tenders who worked at the same switches. In addition, the trustees paid Illinois Central $1.87 1/2 for each passenger car switched into Grand Central Station, which included all the cars in the Frisco train being switched into the station at the time Haney was killed.

The Illinois Central tracks run north and south directly past and into the Grand Central Station. About 2,700 feet south of the station, the Frisco tracks cross at right angles to the Illinois Central tracks. A westbound Frisco train wishing to use the station must stop some 250 feet or more west of this crossing and back into the station over a switch line curving east and north. The events in issue center about the switch several feet north of the main Frisco tracks at the point where the switch line branches off. This switch controls the tracks at this point.

It was very dark on the evening of December 21, 1939. At about 7:30 p.m., a westbound interstate Frisco passenger train stopped on the Frisco main line, its rear some 20 or 30 feet west of the switch. Haney, in the performance of his duties, threw or opened the switch to permit

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the train to back into the station. The respondents claimed that Haney was then required to cross to the south side of the track before the train passed the switch, and the conductor of the train testified that he saw Haney so cross. But there was also evidence that Haney's duties required him to wait at the switch north of the [66 S.Ct. 742] track until the train had cleared, close the switch, return to his shanty near the crossing, and change the signals from red to green to permit trains on the Illinois Central tracks to use the crossing. The Frisco train cleared the switch, backing at the rate of 8 or 10 miles per hour. But the switch remained open, and the signals still were red. Upon investigation, Haney was found north of the track near the switch lying face down on the ground, unconscious. An ambulance was called, but he was dead upon arrival at the hospital.

Haney had been struck in the back of the head, causing a fractured skull from which he died. There were no known eyewitnesses to the fatal blow. Although it is not clear, there is evidence that his body was extended north and south, the head to the south. Apparently he had fallen forward to the south; his face was bruised on the left side from hitting the ground, and there were marks indicating that his toes had dragged a few inches southward as he fell. His head was about 5 1/2 feet north of the Frisco tracks. Estimates ranged from 2 feet to 14 feet as to how far west of the switch he lay.

The injury to Haney's head was evidenced by a gash about two inches long from which blood flowed. The back of Haney's white cap had a corresponding black mark about an inch and a half long and an inch wide, running at an angle downward to the right of the center of the back of the head. A spot of blood was later found at a point 3 or 4 feet north of the tracks. The conclusion following...

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