Jehl v. Southern Pac. Co.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtTRAYNOR
Citation66 Cal.2d 821,427 P.2d 988,59 Cal.Rptr. 276
Parties, 427 P.2d 988 Michael F. JEHL, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY, Defendant and Appellant. L.A. 29342. In Bank
Decision Date02 June 1967

Page 276

59 Cal.Rptr. 276
66 Cal.2d 821, 427 P.2d 988
Michael F. JEHL, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY, Defendant and Appellant.
L.A. 29342.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
June 2, 1967.

Page 278

[427 P.2d 990] [66 Cal.2d 824] Randolph Karr, William E. Still, E. D. Yeomans and Norman T. Ollestad, Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant.

Boccardo, Blum, Lull, Niland, Teerlink & Bell and Edward J. Niland, San Jose, for plaintiff and respondent.

TRAYNOR, Chief Justice.

In this action to recover damages for personal injuries under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq.) and the Safety Appliance Act (45 [66 Cal.2d 825] U.S.C. § 1 et seq.) defendant Southern Pacific Company appeals from an order granting plaintiff a new trial limited to the issue of damages. The facts relating to plaintiff's injury may be briefly stated, for defendant does not challenge its liability.

On June 19, 1962, at approximately 3:25 a.m., plaintiff was working in defendant's railroad yard at South Gate, California. He was then 19 years old and had been working for defendant for about 6 weeks. His job that night was to work as a field man. As railroad cars were switched onto the track he was working, plaintiff secured them by placing wooden blocks under the wheels. The blocking was necessary because the track was on a grade. Two cars failed to couple properly with cars already secured and began to roll back. The foreman told plaintiff to climb on the moving cars and secure them by means of the hand-brake on each car. As plaintiff was doing so two other cars that had been sent up the track collided with the cars coming down the track. The impact threw plaintiff from the car he was riding and he fell under the wheels of one of the moving cars, receiving severe injuries to the lower part of both legs. It was necessary to amputate his right leg below the knee. The left leg remains in jeopardy of amputation because osteomyelitis has developed in it.

The jury returned a verdict for $100,000, and plaintiff successfully moved for a new trial on the issue of damages on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdict in that the damages awarded were inadequate. (See Code Civ.Proc., § 657; Harper v. Superior Air Parts, Inc., 124 Cal.App.2d 91, 92, 268 P.2d 115.) Defendant contends that the trial court erred in concluding that the damages were inadequate and therefore abused its discretion in granting plaintiff's motion. An appellate court cannot find an abuse of discretion in granting a new trial for insufficiency of the evidence unless it appears from the record that the verdict was adequate as a matter of law. (See Yarrow v. State of California, 53 Cal.2d 427, 434, 2 Cal.Rptr. 137, 348 P.2d 687; Bradford v. Edmands, 215 Cal.App.2d 159, 166--167, 30 Cal.Rptr. 185.) No such adequacy appears here.

Plaintiff's right leg was amputated below the knee; his left leg was so seriously injured that it may also have to be amputated.

Page 279

[427 P.2d 991] There is permanent, chronic osteomyelitis in the left leg that has required repeated surgical treatment and may require recurrent treatment well into the future, and there is permanent limitation of motion in the left ankle. [66 Cal.2d 826] Plaintiff continues to suffer pains in his right leg. He was hospitalized for 16 months following the accident and underwent 18 operations. Throughout this time he suffered great pain, necessitating extensive administration of pain-killing drugs. Had he not been injured, plaintiff's projected gross income from the date of the accident to the age of 65 would have exceeded $500,000. By substantially impairing his ability to compete in the labor market, his injuries materially reduced this expectable earning power. The projected costs of his prosthetic appliances exceeded $15,000. It thus appears that the trial court could reasonably have concluded that plaintiff's pecuniary losses alone would exceed the amount of the verdict and that a substantial additional amount should be allowed for pain and suffering. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting a new trial on the ground of inadequate damages.

Defendant contends, however, that because certain evidence favorable to it is so compelling, we should not apply the normal rule governing appellate review (see Bradford v. Edmands, supra, 215 Cal.App.2d at 166--167, 2 Cal.Rptr. 137, 348 P.2d 687), but should make an independent determination of the adequacy of the jury's verdict without regard to the ruling of the trial court. The evidence in question consists of certain motion picture films taken of defendant without his knowledge; uncontradicted testimony that he has made no effort at rehabilitation, has not exercised, has not sought job counseling, and spends his days generally watching television; and testimony that his prosthesis is not of the most advanced design and unnecessarily restricts his mobility. Defendant contends that this evidence establishes that there should be a substantial improvement in plaintiff's physical, mental, and emotional condition that will reduce his anticipated damages. At most this evidence would indicate that plaintiff may have exaggerated his damages. It does not demonstrate that the trial court erred in concluding that the verdict was inadequate.

Invoking Crowe v. Sacks, 44 Cal.2d 590, 283 P.2d 689, defendant contends that the trial court erred in not returning the jury for further deliberation under proper instructions, when it appeared that the damages were inadequate. There is no merit in this contention. Only if 'the jury allows damages so grossly inadequate as to show that it must have disregarded the evidence and the instructions of the court,' or the verdict is otherwise defective, should the jury 'be returned for further deliberation under proper instructions.' [66 Cal.2d 827] (Crowe v. Sacks, supra, 44 Cal.2d at 598, 283 P.2d at 694.) If, on the other hand, 'the trial judge believes that the damages are inadequate (but the verdict is not defective), the proper procedure is to set the verdict aside on motion for new trial.' (Crowe v. Sacks, supra, 44 Cal.2d at 599, 283 P.2d at 694.)

Defendant contends that the trial court should have given defendant the option to consent to an additur 1 before granting plaintiff's motion for a new trial. We consider this contention even though defendant did not directly request an additur in the trial court, for such a request would have been an idle act. (Civ.Code, § 3532; cf. Hudspeth v. Jaurequi, 234 Cal.App.2d 526, 528, 44 Cal.Rptr. 428.) In a discussion with counsel at the time for motions after trial, the court made it clear that it would not order an additur. Indeed, in light of this court's decision in Dorsey v. Barba, 38 Cal.2d 350, 240 P.2d 604, holding additur to be unconstitutional, the trial court would have been bound to deny

Page 280

[427 P.2d 992] an additur even if it had been specifically and directly requested. (Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court, 57 Cal.2d 450, 455, 20 Cal.Rptr. 321, 369 P.2d 937.)

Two questions must be resolved in considering defendant's contention. First, should the decision in Dorsey v. Barba, supra, 38 Cal.2d 350, 240 P.2d 604, be overruled? Second, if so, can additur be applied in the present case, which arises under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. section 51 et seq.?

I.

In Dorsey this court held that additur would deny a plaintiff's right to jury trial as guaranteed by article I, section 7, of the California Constitution. 2 Although the Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution is not binding on the states 3 and differs significantly in language from the California constitutional provision, 4 Dorsey relied in large part [66 Cal.2d 828] on Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 55 S.Ct. 296, 79 L.Ed. 603. (See Dorsey v. Barba, supra, 38 Cal.2d at 357, 240 P.2d 604.) Dimick was a five-to-four decision 5 and has been vigorously criticized. 6 Like Dorsey, Dimick was based on an historical and logical analysis that was open to serious question. Since additur did not exist at common law when the relevant constitutional provisions were adopted and since a plaintiff is guaranteed the right of jury trial as it existed at common law, additur was deemed a denial of that right. (Dimick v. Schiedt, supra, 293 U.S. at 476--482, 55 S.Ct. 296; Dorsey v. Barba, supra, 38 Cal.2d at 355--359, 240 P.2d 604.)

Both courts were confronted with the argument that additur is no more a denial of a plaintiff's right to jury trial than remittitur is a denial of a defendant's right. Although some faint historical foundation was found for this difference in treatment, 7 Dimick further relied on the tenuous ground that remittitur left standing a part of the jury's award, whereas additur constituted 'a bald addition' to the verdict. 8

We have reassessed Dorsey and overrule it, finding its arguments unpersuasive when considered in the light of the demands of fair and efficient administration of justice. We do not believe that defendants should

Page 281

[427 P.2d 993] be denied the advantages of additur when they are required to submit to remittitur.

Even in Dorsey they court noted that the 'constitutional guarantee does not require adherence to the letter of [66 Cal.2d 829] common law practice, and new procedures better suited to the efficient administration of justice may be substituted if there is no impairment of the substantial features of a jury trial.' (Dorsey v. Barba, supra, 38 Cal.2d at 356, 240 P.2d at 607.) We have concluded that additur is such a procedure. The demands of an 'efficient administration of justice' must be considered in context. Since 1952, the year Dorsey was decided, there has been a tremendous increase in filings in civil cases including contested matters. Total dispositions in ordinary civil litigation increased more than fourfold during the 1952--1964 period....

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  • Franchise Tax Bd. v. the Superior Court of The City, No. S176943.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 13, 2011
    ...v. Bondo Corp. (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 150, 180, 62 Cal.Rptr.3d 722 [citing federal cases]; but see Jehl v. Southern Pac. Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 827, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988.) 6. The New Mexico opinion did not acknowledge the contrary rule stated in Wickwire, supra, 275 U.S. at pag......
  • People v. Mortimer, H037530
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 25, 2013
    ...(2010) 561 U.S. 742, 130 S.Ct. 3020, 3034–3035, fn. 13, 177 L.Ed.2d 894 [not applicable to states]; Jehl v. Southern Pac. Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 827, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988 [same]; Hung v. Wang (1992) 8 Cal.App.4th 908, 927, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 113 [same].) The state Constitution guar......
  • Rowe v. Superior Court, No. B070406
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 25, 1993
    ...only guarantees a federal right to a jury trial in civil cases and is not binding on the states. (Jehl v. Southern Pacific Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 827, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988.) Therefore, we confine our discussion to the impact of the provisions of the California 8 The resolution ......
  • Delos v. Farmers Group, Inc.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 30, 1979
    ...833) and this case does not fall within any judicially created exception to that limited power. (Jehl v. Southern Pac. Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 835, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988; Clemens v. Regents of University of California (1970) 8 Cal.App.3d 1, 20-22, 87 Cal.Rptr. 108.) We also decli......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
82 cases
  • Franchise Tax Bd. v. the Superior Court of The City, No. S176943.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 13, 2011
    ...v. Bondo Corp. (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 150, 180, 62 Cal.Rptr.3d 722 [citing federal cases]; but see Jehl v. Southern Pac. Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 827, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988.) 6. The New Mexico opinion did not acknowledge the contrary rule stated in Wickwire, supra, 275 U.S. at pag......
  • People v. Mortimer, H037530
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 25, 2013
    ...(2010) 561 U.S. 742, 130 S.Ct. 3020, 3034–3035, fn. 13, 177 L.Ed.2d 894 [not applicable to states]; Jehl v. Southern Pac. Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 827, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988 [same]; Hung v. Wang (1992) 8 Cal.App.4th 908, 927, 11 Cal.Rptr.2d 113 [same].) The state Constitution guar......
  • Rowe v. Superior Court, No. B070406
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 25, 1993
    ...only guarantees a federal right to a jury trial in civil cases and is not binding on the states. (Jehl v. Southern Pacific Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 827, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988.) Therefore, we confine our discussion to the impact of the provisions of the California 8 The resolution ......
  • Delos v. Farmers Group, Inc.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 30, 1979
    ...833) and this case does not fall within any judicially created exception to that limited power. (Jehl v. Southern Pac. Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 821, 835, 59 Cal.Rptr. 276, 427 P.2d 988; Clemens v. Regents of University of California (1970) 8 Cal.App.3d 1, 20-22, 87 Cal.Rptr. 108.) We also decli......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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