Dougherty v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co.

Decision Date01 February 1881
Citation9 Mo.App. 478
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

1. A carrier of passengers by street-cars must either wait a reasonable time for the passenger to be seated, or must start the car with a gradual motion.

Where the car is started with an unusual jerk which throws the passenger against the car window and lacerates his hand, before he has time to be seated, and it appears that by a proper use of the reins and brake the car could be started without any jerk, this makes a prima facie case of negligence against the carrier.

3. A general allegation of negligence is good after verdict.

ERROR to the St. Louis Circuit Court, WICKHAM, J.

Reversed and remanded.

MCCOMAS & MCKEIGHAN, for the plaintiff in error, cited: Stokes v. Saltonstall, 13 Pet. 181; Christie v. Griggs, 2 Camp. 79; Railroad v.Pollard, 22 Wall. 341; Cincinnati v. Smith, 22 Ohio St. 227; Lemon v. Chausler, 68 Mo. 340.LEE & CHANDLER, for the defendant in error: A general allegation of negligence is not sufficient.-- Lee v. Manufacturing Co., 6 Mo. App. 578. The act done or omitted constituting negligence, must be shown.-- Schultz v. Railroad Co., 36 Mo. 32; Nolan v. Shickle, 3 Mo. App. 300; Ward v. Andrews, 3 Mo. App. 275; 36 Mo. 484; 65 Mo. 25; 29 N. Y. 315-326. Mere proof of an accident having happened to a train does not cast upon the railway company the burden of showing the real cause of the injury. Hammack v. White, 11 C. B. (N. S.) 594. The same degree of care is not required of the carriers of passengers upon street-cars drawn by horses, as of railroad companies whose cars are drawn by steam.-- Umber v. Railroad Co., 6 Robt. 327; s. c. 51 N. Y. 497; Feital v. Railroad Co., 109 Mass. 398.

THOMPSON, J., delivered the opinion of the court.

This is an action against a common carrier of passengers for damages for an injury sustained by a passenger while in the carriage of the defendant. At the close of the plaintiff's case, the court gave an instruction that, on the pleadings and evidence, the plaintiff is not entitled to recover. The plaintiff took a non-suit with leave, which the trial court refused to set aside.

The testimony is, that the plaintiff, after dark on an evening in April, entered a car of the defendant's line. The car was moving west on the defendant's railroad track between Fourth and Fifth Streets, on Olive Street, in St. Louis. It was hailed by the plaintiff, and stopped to take him on. The seats on the north side of the car were full. Four seats on the south side were also occupied. In order to find a vacant place the plaintiff moved toward the west end of the car, and, as he was about to take his seat, the car started with a sudden jerk, which threw him off his feet. He had an umbrella in his right hand; he threw out his left hand to catch a strap, but missed it, and his hand went through the window. The hand was very badly lacerated by the glass. After the plaintiff had been treated by several physicians for months, and had suffered great pain, it was found necessary to amputate the arm to save his life. This was accordingly done. There is testimony that the jerk with which the car started was unusual on that line; that the sensation was not as if there was a pebble on the track, but as if the horses started off suddenly and rapidly. A car-driver testifies that, by holding the lines tight in one hand and controlling the brake with the other, a car can be made to start without a jerk.

There is no doubt that the mere fact that an accident has happened to a passenger during the transit, without more, is not evidence to charge the carrier. Curtis v. Railroad Co., 18 N. Y. 536; Brehm v. Railway Co., 34 Barb. 256, 268. Thus, if a passenger were to fall down upon the floor of a railway coach, while it was standing still; or, while sitting in the coach, were wounded by a gunshot fired by a trespasser from without, or were struck by lightning from above, it is obvious that in none of these cases would there be a prima facie case against the carrier, since there would be nothing in the facts attending the accident tending to show a failure of duty on his part. This illustrates what the courts mean by holding that a carrier of passengers, while bound to extraordinary care, is not an insurer of his passengers. But the carrier is under a duty towards his passengers of exercising a high degree of care, to the end that his physical means of transportation shall be safe, and that no error injurious to the passenger shall be committed in operating them. Such being the measure of his duty, the following propositions may be laid down as governing his liability: When an injury is shown to have been produced, either (1) by the breaking down or failure of the carrier's vehicle, roadway, or other physical appliances ( Christie v. Griggs, 2 Camp. 79; Railroad Co. v. Eraid, 1 Moo. P. C. C. (N. S.) 101; Carpue v. Railroad Co., 5 Q. B. 747, per Lord Denman, C. J.; Bowen v. Railroad Co., 18 N. Y. 408; Curtis v. Railroad Co., 18 N. Y. 538; Railroad Co. v. Wightman, 29 Gratt. 431; Sullivan v. Railroad Co. 30 Pa. St. 234; Laing v. Colder, 8 Pa. St. 479; Railroad Co. v. Beggs, 85 Ill. 80; Railway Co. v. Thompson, 56 Ill. 138; Yonge v. Kinney, 28 Ga. 111; Brehm v. Railway Co., 34 Barb. 256; Ware v. Gay, 11 Pick. 106); or (2) by an error of the carrier, or his servants, in operating them ( Skinner v. Railroad Co., 5 Exch. 786; Stokes v. Saltonstall, 13 Pet. 181 (affirming s. c. sub nom. Saltonstall v. Stockton, Taney's Dec. 11); Railroad Co. v. Pollard, 22 Wall. 341; Farish v. Reigle, 11 Gratt. 697; Holbrook v. Railroad Co., 12 N. Y. 236 (affirming s. c. 16 Barb. 113); Stockton v. Frey, 4 Gill, 406; Fairchild v. Stage Co., 13 Cal. 599; Roberts v. Johnson, 58 N. Y. 613 (affirming s. c. 5 Jones & Sp. 613), without more, a presumption of negligence arises against the carrier, which casts upon him the burden of showing that the accident happened notwithstanding the exercise on his part of the high degree of care which the law imposes upon him. Some courts have stated the rule even in stronger terms than those stated above. Thus, it is said by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that, prima facie, where a passenger being carried on a train is injured without fault of his own, there is a legal presumption of negligence, casting upon the carrier the onus of disproving it.” Meier v. Railroad Co., 64 Pa. St. 225, 230; Laing v. Colder, 8 Pa. St. 479, 483. The instruction which was held good in Railroad Company v. Pollard, 22 Wall. 341, 346, 350, went quite as far, namely: “If, from the evidence, the jury are satisfied that the injury was occasioned while Mrs. Pollard was a passenger on the defendant's road, and that she was in the exercise of ordinary care,--namely, that degree of care which may be reasonably expected from a person in her situation,--this would be prima facie or presumptive evidence of the defendant's liability, and that the plaintiff would not be required to show by what particular acts of misconduct or negligence on the part of the defendant the injury was occasioned.” But these expressions were, no doubt, intended to be taken with the qualification that the injury proceeded from something under the control of the carrier or its servants. Thus, in an earlier case in Pennsylvania it is said: “When in the performance of this contract [of carriage] they hurt a passenger, without fault of his, the law, prima facie, raises a presumption of negligence, and throws on the company the onus of showing that it did not exist.” Sullivan v. Railroad Co., 30 Pa. St. 234, 239.

We need not examine in detail the applications which this doctrine received in the above cases. The extent to which the rule has proceeded may be understood by selecting two or three, which are stronger, if possible, than the case at bar. In Holbrook v. Railroad Company 12 N. Y. 236 (affirming s. c. 16 Barb. 113), it was shown that a passenger was seated in a railway coach. While the train was in motion, some hard substance rubbed against the coach and struck her elbow, fracturing it. What this substance was did not appear. It was held that the evidence raised a presumption of negligence on the part of the railway company. In Railroad Company v. Pollard, 22 Wall. 341, a female passenger was standing in a Pullman car arranging her child's hair, preparatory to alighting from the train. It was about daylight; the train had arrived at its destination; the car was upon a siding, hitched to an engine, and moving so slowly that some of the passengers were then getting off. One car bumped against another with a certain degree of force, so that the passenger was in some way thrown against the arm of the seat in which she had been sitting, striking the lower part of her spinal cord, and inflicting a severe injury. Upon this testimony it was held, on the authority of Stokes v. Saltonstall, 13 Pet. 181, that it was no error to refuse to nonsuit the plaintiff, or to give the instruction which we have already quoted from this case. A case still more like the present is Roberts v. Johnson, 58 N. Y. 613 (affirming s. c. 5 Jones & Sp. 157). The plaintiff, a large, fleshy woman, was a passenger in the defendant's omnibus, in New York City. The evidence tended to show that while she was getting out the horses started, by means of which she was thrown violently upon the ground and injured. “This,” said the court, “showed, prima facie, either that the horses were unsuitable for such service, or the driver incompetent or negligent in the performance of his duty. If the starting of the horses was attributable to some other cause, for which the defendants were not responsible, it was for them to show it.” She recovered damages, and the judgment was affirmed.

There is nothing peculiar in street-railway service to remove the present case from the application of these principles. Chicago Railway v. Munford, 21...

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