Felder v. Union Pacific R. Co.

Decision Date16 December 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80CA0065,80CA0065
Citation660 P.2d 911
PartiesDavid J. FELDER, Plaintiff-Appellee and Cross-Appellant, v. UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, a corporation, Defendant-Appellant and Cross-Appellee. . II
CourtColorado Court of Appeals

Richard B. Bauer, Westminster, Ratner, Mattox, Ratner, Barnes & Kinch, P.A., E.L. Kinch, Wichita, Kan., for plaintiff-appellee and cross-appellant.

Gorsuch, Kirgis, Campbell, Walker & Grover, Wiley Y. Daniel, Steven Bailey, Denver, for defendant-appellant and cross-appellee.

SMITH, Judge.

David J. Felder brought this action under the Federal Employers Liability Act seeking damages for injuries which he sustained while employed as a switchman by Union Pacific Railroad. A jury found the railroad negligent and thus liable for damages. The trial court initially entered judgment in the amount of $39,278, including $4,278, in pre-judgment interest. However, the pre-judgment interest was subsequently deleted from the award.

On appeal, the railroad asserts that the trial court erred in instructing the jury, and Felder has cross-appealed, claiming error in the deletion of pre-judgment interest. We affirm in each instance.

I.

The railroad initially contends that the trial court erred in giving the jury a "general verdict form" rather than the tendered "special verdict form." We disagree.

Relying on the comparative negligence statute, § 13-21-111, C.R.S.1973, the railroad argues that the trial court was required to give the jury a special verdict form. That statute provides as follows:

"(1) Contributory negligence shall not bar recovery in any action by any person or his legal representative to recover damage for negligence resulting in death or in injury to persons or property, if such negligence was not as great as the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage, or death recovery is made.

(2) In any action to which subsection (1) in this section applies, ... in a jury trial, the jury shall return a special verdict which shall state:

(a) The amount of damages which would have been recoverable if there had been no contributory negligence; and (b) degree of negligence of each party, expressed as a percentage.

(3) Upon the making of finding of fact or the return of a special verdict, as is required by subsection (2) of this section, the court shall reduce the amount of the verdict in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the person for whose injury, damage, or death recovery is made; but if the said proportion is equal to or greater than the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, then, in such event, the court shall enter a judgment for the defendant."

A reading of § 13-21-111, leads us to the conclusion that the mandatory language of the statute requiring the return of a special verdict has no application in a case brought under the Federal Employers Liability Act.

First, and primarily, in actions under the F.E.L.A., the substantive rights of the parties are governed by that act as interpreted by the federal courts. Showalter v. Western Railway, 16 Cal.2d 460, 106 P.2d 895 (1940). Generally, the F.E.L.A. is a pure comparative negligence statute. See Westgard v. Chicago, M. & St. P. Ry. Co., 176 Wis. 636, 187 W.W. 658 (1922). However, it differs significantly from Colorado's comparative negligence statute in that it provides for a plaintiff's recovery, if defendant is found to have been negligent, regardless of the amount of plaintiff's negligence, if any. As the two statutes provide different substantive rights, under the rationale of Showalter, the law of comparative negligence as defined in the F.E.L.A. is that which governs, and § 13-21-111(1), C.R.S.1973, has no application.

Significantly, § 13-21-111(2), C.R.S.1973, which mandates the return of the special jury verdict is limited in its application to those actions to which subsection (1) applies. As discussed, § 13-21-111(1), C.R.S.1973, has no application in a case brought in Colorado under the F.E.L.A. Accordingly, the mandates of § 13-21-111(2) by its own terms, can likewise have no application.

Further, comparison of the two statutes reveals the rationale for requiring a "special verdict" in the application of Colorado's statute, and why one is not mandated in actions brought under the F.E.L.A.

Under the Colorado act, the sole responsibility of the jury is to make certain specific findings of fact. Section 13-21-111(2), C.R.S.1973. The trial court then has the responsibility, based on those findings, to determine first, whether the plaintiff is entitled to recover at all, and second, how much. Section 13-21-111(3), C.R.S.1973. Thus, the use of a special verdict is an integral part of the state's comparative negligence doctrine and procedure of adjudication. See V. Schwartz, Comparative Negligence, § 15.2, at 236, citing Millsap v. Central Wisconsin Motor Transportation Co., 41 Ill.App.2d 1, 189 N.E.2d 793 (1963) (commenting on Wisconsin's comparative negligence statute, after which the Colorado act was patterned).

In contrast, the practice in F.E.L.A. cases is to instruct the jury on the methods of determining (1) each parties' negligence, (2) the total amount of damages, and (3) the award based upon their findings of comparative negligence, if any. Upon completing this procedure, the jury returns a final award upon which judgment can be entered.

Thus, in F.E.L.A. cases, the jury does that which the judge is required to do in Colorado. The purpose then for use of the special verdict in Colorado is limited to providing sufficient information from which the trial court can make the final assessment.

In F.E.L.A. cases brought in Colorado, a special verdict form is...

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14 cases
  • Humphries v. Pittsburgh and Lake Erie R. Co.
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • July 6, 1984
    ...denied, 66 N.J. 317, 331 A.2d 17 (1974) (Citing a New York case and other circuit court decisions). Accord Felder v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 660 P.2d 911, 914-915 (Colo.App.1982) (Prejudgment interest may not be awarded in a Federal Employers' Liability Act case); Bennett v. Atchison T.......
  • McGillis Inv. Co. v. First Interstate Fin. Utah LLC, Court of Appeals No. 14CA1568
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • August 13, 2015
    ...on this specific issue. See C.R.C.P. 49(b) (general verdict accompanied by answer to interrogatories); Felder v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 660 P.2d 911, 914 (Colo. App. 1982) (use of special interrogatories accompanying general verdicts is discretionary with the trial court). But the jury was gi......
  • Yampa Valley Elec. Ass'n, Inc. v. Telecky
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • September 27, 1993
    ...an incorrect statement of the common law, the trial court erred in giving the instruction to the jury. See e.g., Felder v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 660 P.2d 911, 914 (Colo.App.1982) (stating that a party is not entitled to an instruction that contains a wrong statement of the applicable law). E......
  • Failing v. Burlington Northern R. Co., 89CA1006
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • March 28, 1991
    ...There is no error in giving instructions which adequately and correctly inform the jury as to the applicable law. Felder v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 660 P.2d 911 (Colo.App.1982). Accordingly, the trial court did not commit error because the instruction concerning whether defendant was neglig......
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4 books & journal articles
  • Chapter 19 - § 19.9 • GENERAL AND SPECIAL VERDICTS
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Courtroom Handbook for Civil Trials (CBA) Chapter 19 Jury Instructions
    • Invalid date
    ...The use of the special verdict is an integral part of the comparative negligence doctrine and procedure. Felder v. Union P. R.R., 660 P.2d 911, 913 (Colo. App. 1982). ➢ General Verdict Inadvisable Where Multiple Claims. A general verdict entered on distinct issues could not be sustained if ......
  • Chapter 19 - § 19.9 GENERAL AND SPECIAL VERDICTS
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Courtroom Handbook for Civil Trials (2022 ed.) (CBA) Chapter 19 Jury Instructions
    • Invalid date
    ...The use of the special verdict is an integral part of the comparative negligence doctrine and procedure. Felder v. Union P. R.R., 660 P.2d 911, 913 (Colo. App. 1982). ➢ General Verdict Inadvisable Where Multiple Claims. A general verdict entered on distinct issues could not be sustained if ......
  • Recovery of Interest: Part Ii-other Than Personal Injury
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 07-1989, July 1989
    • Invalid date
    ...Resources, Inc. v. Monsanto Co., 849 F.2d 1286 (10th Cir. 1988). 107. 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. 108. Felder v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 660 P.2d 911 (Colo.App. 1982). 109. Showalter v. Western Railway, 16 Cal.2d 460, 106 P.2d 895 (1940). 110. Wilson v. Burlington Northern, 803 F.2d 563 (10t......
  • Rule 49 SPECIAL VERDICTS AND INTERROGATORIES.
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure (CBA)
    • Invalid date
    ...accompanying general verdicts, unless specifically required, is discretionary with the trial court. Felder v. Union Pac. R.R., 660 P.2d 911 (Colo. App. 1982). Jury verdicts will not be reversed for inconsistency if the record discloses any evidentiary basis to support the verdicts. Alzado v......

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