Central of Georgia Ry. Co. v. Steed

Citation248 So.2d 110,287 Ala. 64
Decision Date08 April 1971
Docket Number6 Div. 774
CourtAlabama Supreme Court
Sadler, Sadler, Sullivan & Sharp, Birmingham, for appellant

Rives, Peterson, Pettus, Conway & Burge, Birmingham, for appellee.

MADDOX, Justice.

Appellee, J. P. Steed, brought suit against the Central of Georgia Railroad under the provisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act, Title 45, § 51 U.S.C., in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama on March 3, 1967.

Plaintiff (Appellee) alleged that he sustained injuries as a result of the negligence of the officers, agents or employees of the defendant while acting within the line and scope of their employment by the defendant, or by reason of a defect or insufficiency due to the negligence of the defendant in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, tracks, roadbed, works or other equipment. In court two he alleged that the defendant negligently failed to exercise reasonable care to furnish or maintain him a reasonably safe place to perform his work.

Prior to the trial of the case, Central of Georgia filed a third party complaint against Riegel Textile Corporation. Riegel removed the case to the U.S. District Court. The issues between the Central of Georgia and Riegel were severed from the main case and the trial was between Steed and Central of Georgia.

The track where the accident occurred was built, maintained, and used in accordance with a track agreement between Riegel and Central of Georgia which provided in part that Riegel would own and maintain the spur track (or if it failed to maintain the track then it was agreed that the railroad would do it), and that Riegel would indemnify Central of Georgia from loss or damage from any act of the tenant, its employees or agents, while others were on or about the track.

This spur track was situated in part of a roadway in the Riegel plant. At about the time of the accident, a boiler was being constructed across the road from the loading platform. Gravel and debris would get on the tracks from trucks traveling along the roadway.

The alleged negligence occurred on December 30, 1966. Steed was called to fill the regular job of an absent employee whose job included working for the railroad at the Riegel plant that day. Steed had worked with the railroad at the Riegel plant before. He was directing the switching of cars at the Riegel plant by radio. The cars were moving at a speed of about 2--3 miles per hour and Steed was directing the engineer by radio as to how close he was to the rear of the car to be coupled. Steed was standing on the side ladder of the lead car moving toward the loading platform and was between the car and the platform when the derailment occurred. Steed was caught between the car and the platform and dragged 40--50 feet after being caught. The left leg was almost amputated save for a piece of skin and the right leg was badly fractured and torn.

As to the circumstances surrounding the accident, Steed testified that the track looked no different at the time of the derailment than it had on other occasions when he was there. He testified that he was riding on the lead car, approaching another car, and looking at the car ahead, when he heard the sound of rocks grinding and looked down and saw the wheels off the track. He then said that he tried to jump to the platform but was caught between it and the car. A railroad employee testified that there had been four or five derailments on the spur track to the Riegel plant prior to time of the derailment made the basis of this suit. Steed denied knowledge of any previous derailments on the spur track.

Steed was taken to a Trion, Georgia hospital where his left leg was removed below the knee. He was later taken to Baroness Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Steed was in the hospital in Chattanooga some eighty days during which time he underwent two operations. Pins were placed in the right leg and he was placed in traction for seventy-three days. He was encased in a body cast and kept lying down for approximately three months. He was in and out of the hospital and home When working, Steed made about $700 per month. If he had kept working, his seniority would soon earn him about $1100 per month. There is some testimony that he had suffered great mental anguish and a psychiatrist testified that Steed had become psychoneurotic as a result of the injury and further stated that future psychiatric care might be indicated.

in bed for various periods of time through January 23, 1968. He progressed from a wheel chair to a walker. At the time of trial, Steed maintained that he was uncomfortable in his artificial limb and that the stump swelled and drained and that his right leg was stiff and that he did not have full use of it.

The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $500,000. On motion for a new trial, the plaintiff accepted a remittitur of $200,000, and the Court denied the defendant's motion for a new trial.

Central of Georgia argues primarily here that the verdict of the jury is so excessive in amount as to shock the conscience of the court, and that the verdict was obviously rendered by the jury as a result of bias, prejudice, or other improper motives, and that the remittitur ordered by the Court and consented to by the plaintiff, did not eradicate the alleged bias, prejudice or other improper motive. Succinctly stated, the railroad's argument of bias and prejudice is based upon the following premises:

1. The case was recessed for four days because of the death of a juror's mother.

2. The case was recessed for an additional week because of the illness of one of the jurors.

3. The jury deliberated for only forty-five minutes and returned a verdict for $500,000.

4. The trial court's reduction of the verdict by 40% Indicates that bias and prejudice existed.

5. The judgment of $300,000 will give the plaintiff an income of $15,000--$18,000 annually for life and permit him to leave an estate of $300,000.

No inflexible rule exists to guide a court in determining whether bias, prejudice or other improper motive is indicated because of the amount of a particular jury verdict. This court has said that the internal evidence, the verdict itself, in the light of the facts clearly disclosed by the evidence, usually furnishes the determining data. Alabama Gas Co. v. Jones, 244 Ala. 413, 13 So.2d 873 (1943).

On motion for a new trial the court ordered the plaintiff to file a remittitur of $200,000 or be required to try the cause again. On several previous occasions this court has determined that such action by the trial court gives rise to a favorable presumption as to the correctness of the amount of the judgment in the sum finally awarded. Airheart v. Green, 267 Ala. 689, 104 So.2d 687 (1958); Hercules Inc. v. Jones, 284 Ala. 692, 228 So.2d 9 (1969); Carlisle v. Miller, 275 Ala. 440, 155 So.2d 689 (1963).

In Airheart v. Green, supra, the Court said:

'The action of the trial court in conditioning the granting of a new trial to the defendant upon the filing of a remittitur by the plaintiff is also urged as error. Courts do not favor the setting aside of verdicts if it can be justly avoided. "Remittiturs', * * * 'are favored * * * in proper cases, for the promotion of justice and the ending of litigation''. Cook & Laurie Contracting Co. v. Bell, 177 Ala. 618, 635, 59 So. 273, 279. Where it is found that the jury's verdict is so excessive as to indicate that it resulted from passion, prejudice, or other improper motive, this court, recognizing and applying the above principle has ordered a new trial conditioned, however, upon the failure of the appellee to file a remittitur 'Likewise, where as here the trial court has ordered a remittitur of a specified amount and has refused to grant a new trial, a favorable presumption as to the correctness thereof is indulged by this court. Birmingham Electric Co. v. Thompson, 251 Ala. 465, 37 So.2d 633. And whether this court should further reduce the verdict or set the verdict aside involves a review of trial court's judgment based upon his observation of all the witnesses who testified in the case and other incidents of the trial which cannot be reflected in the transcript and which are not available for observation by us. Luquire Funeral Home(s) Ins. Co. v. Turner, 235 Ala. 305, 178 So. 536; Birmingham Elec. Co. v. Howard, 250 Ala. 421, 34 So.2d 830; Moore v. Cooke, 264 Ala. 97, 84 So.2d 748.'

of a specified amount of damages. Waters v. Anthony, 256 Ala. 370, 54 So.2d 589; Brasfield v. Hood, 221 Ala. 240, 128 So. 433; Southern Ry. Co. v. Dickson, 211 Ala. 481, 100 So. 665; Alabama Gas Co. v. Jones, 244 Ala. 413, 13 So.2d 873. See also Montgomery Traction Co. v. Knabe, 158 Ala. 458, 48 So. 501 (action of trial court in reducing the verdict; affirmed); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Barnes, 261 Ala. 496, 75 So.2d 91 (remittitur ordered by trial court; affirmed).

No standard exists for the admeasurement of damages for pain and suffering, and the weight to be given evidence of pain and suffering is discretionary with the jury. Only when the verdict or the amount has been induced or reached on account of bias, passion, prejudice, corruption or other improper motive or cause does the court have authority to set the verdict aside or order a remittitur. The court is without authority to interfere with the verdict on the ground that in the opinion of the court the jury gave too much. Airheart v. Green, supra, and cases there cited. Stringellow v. Rambo, 277 Ala. 349, 170 So.2d 494 (1965).

We have carefully studied the entire record, taking into consideration the guiding principles set out in Airheart v. Green, supra, and being mindful that we must exercise our authority to disturb a jury verdict with great caution, we decline to order a further reduction or to order a new trial on the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
24 cases
  • Banner Welders, Inc. v. Knighton
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • December 17, 1982
    ...which cannot be separated from the whole, they may, nevertheless, be admitted under proper circumstances. Central of Georgia Railway Company v. Steed, 287 Ala. 64, 248 So.2d 110 (1971); Sims v. Struthers, 267 Ala. 80, 100 So.2d 23 (1958); Hunt v. Ward, 262 Ala. 379, 79 So.2d 20 (1955); Sims......
  • Alabama Power Co. v. Cantrell
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • September 5, 1986
    ... ... The trial judge, in his order on remand, in addressing the central argument made by APCo that it had no notice, actual or constructive, that someone would be injured ... claims advanced for the first time on application for rehearing, and cites Central of Georgia Ry. v. Steed, 287 Ala. 64, 76-77, 248 So.2d 110, 120-21 (1971) ...         The rehearing ... ...
  • B & M Homes, Inc. v. Hogan
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • September 14, 1979
    ... ... Central of Georgia Railway Co. v. Steed, 287 Ala. 64, 248 So.2d 110 (1971). The trial judge may not ... ...
  • Lawler Mobile Homes, Inc. v. Tarver
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • May 16, 1986
    ... ... Holcombe v. Whitaker, 294 Ala. 430, 318 So.2d 289 (1975); Central of Georgia Ry. Co. v. Steed, 287 Ala. 64, 69, 248 So.2d 110, 114 (1971) ... " 'And whether this ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT