Florida East Coast Ry. Co. v. Thompson

Decision Date18 January 1927
Citation93 Fla. 30,111 So. 525
PartiesFLORIDA EAST COAST RY. CO. v. THOMPSON.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

En Banc.

Error to Circuit Court, Monroe County; H. F. Atkinson, Judge.

Action by James C. Thompson against the Florida East Coast Railway Company for personal injuries. Judgment for plaintiff, and defendant brings error.

Reversed and a new trial awarded.

Syllabus by the Court

SYLLABUS

Contract procured by fraud is never binding on innocent party; as to innocent party, contract procured by fraud is voidable, and as to wrongdoer, it is void. A contract procured through fraud is never binding upon an innocent party thereto. As to him, such contract is voidable; as to the wrongdoer, it is void.

Fraud is never presumed and burden of proof is on him who asserts it. Fraud is never presumed. It must be established by the evidence, and the burden is upon him who asserts it.

Existence of fraud will not be assumed on doubtful parol evidence especially where there is substantial credible evidence to contrary. The existence of fraud will not be assumed upon doubtful or vague parol evidence, especially where there is substantial credible evidence to the contrary.

Law encourages compromise and settlement, entered into fairly and in good faith, between competent parties. It is the policy of the law to encourage and favor the compromise and settlement of controversies, when such settlement is entered into fairly and in good faith between competent parties, and is not procured by fraud or overreaching.

To impeach for fraud release of liability for personal injuries executed by competent person in absence of fiduciary relation, proof must be clear, cogent, substantial, and convincing. Where a formal written release of liability for personal injuries is executed by a competent person in possession of all his faculties, and there exists between the releasor and releasee no fiduciary relation, and the circumstances are such that the releasee, or its representatives, occupied no position of advantage over the releasor, in order to accomplish the impeachment, as for fraud, of a release so executed, proof of the fraud should be clear, cogent, substantial, and convincing.

Evidence of fraud in securing release of liability for personal injuries may be wholly circumstantial or combination of direct and circumstantial evidence. Where the validity of a release of liability for personal injuries is attacked as for fraud, evidence of such fraud need not be direct. It may be wholly circumstantial, or a combination of direct and circumstantial evidence.

Mere inadequacy of consideration for release of liability for personal injuries does not alone establish fraud, but is circumstance to be considered. Where the parties to a written release of liability for personal injuries are competent to contract and do so understandingly, and there is no other evidence of fraud or overreaching, mere inadequacy of the consideration for the release is not alone sufficient to establish fraud in the procurement thereof, but it is a circumstance to be considered upon the question of the existence vel non of fraud, and sometimes but little additional supporting evidence is necessary to establish fraud.

Neither court nor jury may suppose existence of fraud where facts established by evidence may be reasonably reconciled with honesty. Whether or not fraud has been shown to exist in a given case is, as a general rule, a question of fact for the jury. But since honesty, not fraud, is presumed, neither courts nor juries may suppose the existence of fraud, where the facts established by the manifest weight and probative force of the evidence may be fairly and reasonably reconciled with honesty and pure dealing.

Positive testimony of one witness is not necessarily sufficient in all cases to sustain finding of fraud, though sufficient for jury. Although the positive testimony of one witness as to the existence of fraud is sufficient to require the case to be submitted to the jury, it does not necessarily follow that such testimony will be sufficient in all cases to sustain a finding of fraud.

Consideration and legal principles guiding in directing verdict and in granting new trial are not same. The considerations and legal principles that guide the judicial discretion in directing a verdict and in granting a new trial on the evidence are not the same.

Conflicts in evidence are for jury, but legal effect of evidence is question of law. Conflicts in evidence are for the jury to decide, but the legal effect of the evidence is a question of law.

Power of Supreme Court or trial court to interfere with verdict as to facts should be exercised cautiously only after consideration of evidence in most favorable aspect to prevailing party. This court is very reluctant to interfere with a verdict of the jury as to the facts. Its power to do so, as well as that of a trial court, should be exercised cautiously and with discrimination and only after a careful consideration of all the evidence in its most favorable aspect to the party in whose favor the verdict was rendered.

Where verdict is manifestly contrary to or not supported by evidence, Supreme Court should set it aside and direct another trial. When the verdict of a jury is manifestly contrary to the evidence, or where the verdict is not supported by the evidence in the sense that there is legally not enough evidence to support the verdict under any reasonable view that may be taken of the evidence, or in the sense that the probative force of the evidence preponderates so strongly against the verdict as to afford just grounds to conclude that the jury acted upon considerations other than the evidence, or that the jury did not give due consideration to the probative force of the evidence, then it is the imperative duty of this court to set it aside and direct another trial.

In setting aside verdict and granting new trial, court does not encroach upon province of jury. In exercising its power and duty to set aside a verdict and grant a new trial under proper circumstances, the court does not encroach upon the province of the jury, for the reason that it does not conclusively settle facts in the form of a verdict, but only gives another jury the opportunity of doing so and of correcting what appears to be a mistake.

Evidence held insufficient to sustain jury's finding of fraud in procurement of release from liability for personal injuries. In action by railroad employee for loss of leg, evidence, held insufficient to sustain jury's finding of fraud in securing release from liability.

COUNSEL

Robert H. Anderson, of Jacksonville, and Wm. H. Malone, of Key West, for plaintiff in error.

J. F. Busto, of Key West, and H. H. Taylor, of Miami, for defendant in error.

OPINION

STRUM J.

The defendant in error, James C. Thompson, as plaintiff below, instituted an action against the defendant railway company to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff, Thompson, while he was an employee of the railway company.

It appears that at the time of his injury the plaintiff, pursuant to the duties of his employment, was engaged in coupling the air hose between two freight cars, having placed himself between and beneath the cars for that purpose. These two cars were embraced within a cut' of cars standing on a switching track, in the yards of the defendant railway company, at Key West. A switching crew was engaged in switching other cars on to this track for the purpose of 'making up' a train, of which train the car which injured plaintiff was to become a part. While the plaintiff was situated and engaged as stated, another 'cut' of cars was 'kicked' against the 'cut' of cars beneath which plaintiff was working, causing the latter 'cut' to roll, striking the plaintiff and causing him to fall, with the result that one of the cars in the latter 'cut' ran over and severed plaintiff's left leg between the knee and ankle.

To plaintiff's declaration alleging negligence on the part of the defendant in 'kicking' the second 'cut' into those beneath which plaintiff was working. The defendant pleaded, first, the general issue; and second, a release of liability. If valid, the instrument offered in support of the latter plea is a complete release of all liability on the part of the defendant, and therefore a bar to plaintiff's action.

To the pleas of release, plaintiff interposed a replication alleging that said release was procured by fraud in that defendant, at the time of payment to plaintiff of the sum of $350, which is alleged to have been the consideration for said release, and while plaintiff was still in the hospital on account of his injury, presented to plaintiff for his signature a certain partly printed and partly typewritten instrument, which the defendant, through certain of its representatives, falsely and fraudulently represented to plaintiff was a receipt for wages; that plaintiff was illiterate and unable to read or write, but, believing and relying upon said false and fraudulent representations, plaintiff authorized his name to be signed to said instrument; all of which, it is contended by the plaintiff, constituted fraud in the factum. See 23 R. C. L. 413(42).

Other issues are presented by the pleadings, but in the view we take of the case it is unnecessary to state or discuss them.

Verdict and judgment were for the plaintiff in the sum of $15,000, to review which judgment the cause is now before us on a writ of error.

Of the several grounds urged by plaintiff in error (defendant below) for reversal, it is necessary in disposing of the cause upon the evidence now before us to consider but one; namely, that the evidence is insufficient to establish fraud in the...

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