Pennsylvania Co v. Chamberlain

Decision Date13 February 1933
Docket NumberNo. 379,379
Citation53 S.Ct. 391,288 U.S. 333,77 L.Ed. 819
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 333-335 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Morton L. Fearey and Roscoe H. Hupper, both of New York City, and Frederic D. McKenney, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Sol Gelb, of New York City, for respondent.

Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action brought by respondent against petitioner to recover for the death of a brakeman, alleged to have been caused by petitioner's negligence. The complaint alleges that the deceased, at the time of the accident resulting in his death, was assisting in the yard work of breaking up and making up trains and in the classifying and assorting of cars operating in interstate commerce; that in pursuance of such work, while riding a cut of cars, other cars ridden by fellow employees were negligently caused to be brought into violent contact with those upon which deceased was riding, with the result that he was thrown therefrom to the railroad track and run over by a car or cars, inflicting injuries from which he died.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial court directed the jury to find a verdict in favor of petitioner. Judgment upon a verdict so found was reversed by the Court of Appeals, Judge Swan dissenting. 59 F.(2d) 986.

That part of the yard in which the accident occurred contained a lead track and a large number of switching tracks branching therefrom. The lead track crossed a 'hump,' and the work of car distribution consisted of pushing a train of cars by means of a locomotive to the top of the 'hump,' and then allowing the cars, in separate strings, to descend by gravity, under the control of hand brakes, to their respective destinations in the various branch tracks. Deceased had charge of a string of two gondola cars, which he was piloting to track 14. Immediately ahead of him was a string of seven cars, and behind him a string of nine cars, both also destined for track 14. Soon after the cars ridden by deceased had passed to track 14, his body was found on that track some distance beyond the switch. He had evidently fallen onto the track and been run over by a car or cars.

The case for respondent rests wholly upon the claim that the fall of deceased was caused by a violent collision of the string of nine cars with the string ridden by deceased. Three employees, riding the nine-car string, testified positively that no such collision occurred. They were corroborated by every other employee in a position to see, all testifying that there was no contact between the nine-car string and that of the deceased. The testimony of these witnesses, if believed, establishes beyond doubt that there was no collision between these two strings of cars, and that the nine-car string contributed in no way to the accident. The only witness who testified for the respondent was one Bainbridge; and it is upon his testimony alone that respondent's right to recover is sought to be upheld. His testimony is concisely stated, in its most favorable light for respondent, in the prevailing opinion below by Judge Learned Hand, as follows:

'The plaintiff's only witness to the event, one Bainbridge, then employed by the road, stood close to the yardmaster's office, near the 'hump.' He professed to have paid little attention to what went on, but he did see the deceased riding at the rear of his cars, whose speed when they passed him he took to be about eight or ten miles. Shortly thereafter a second string passed which was shunted into another track and this was followed by the nine, which, according to the plaintiff's theory, col- lided with the deceased's. After the nine cars had passed at a somewhat greater speed than the deceased's, Bainbridge paid no more attention to either string for a while, but looked again when the deceased, who was still standing in his place, had passed the switch and onto the assorting track where he was bound. At that time his speed had been checked to about three miles, but the speed of the following nine cars had increased. They were just passing the switch, about four or five cars behind the deceased. Bainbridge looked away again and soon heard what he described as a 'loud crash,' not however an unusual event in a switching yard. Apparently this did not cause him at once to turn, but he did so shortly thereafter, and saw the two strings together, still moving, and the deceased no longer in sight. Later still his attention was attracted by shouts and he went to the spot and saw the deceased between the rails. Until he left to go to the accident, he had stood fifty feet to the north of the track where the accident happened, and about nine hundred feet from where the body was found.'

The court, although regarding Bainbridge's testimony as not only 'somewhat suspicious in itself, but its contradiction * * * so manifold as to leave little doubt,' held, nevertheless, that the question was one of fact depending upon the credibility of the witnesses, and that it was for the jury to determine, as between the one witness and the many, where the truth lay. The dissenting opinion of Judge Swan proceeds upon the theory that Bainbridge did not testify that in fact a collision had taken place, but inferred it because he heard a crash, and because thereafter the two strings of cars appeared to him to be moving together. It is correctly pointed out in that opinion, however, that the crash might have come from elsewhere in the busy yard and that Bainbridge was in no position to see whether the two strings of cars were actually together; that Bainbridge repeatedly said he was paying no particular attention; and that his position was such, being 900 feet from the place where the body was found and less than 50 feet from the side of the track in question, that he necessarily saw the strings of cars at such an acute angle that it would be physically impossible even for an attentive observer to tell whether the forward end of the nine-car cut was actually in contact with the rear end of the two-car cut. The dissenting opinion further points out that all the witnesses who were in a position to see testified that there was no collision; that respondent's evidence was wholly circumstantial, and the inferences which might otherwise be drawn from it were shown to be utterly erroneous unless all of petitioner's witnesses were willful perjurers. 'This is not a case,' the opinion proceeds, 'where direct testimony to an essential fact is contradicted by direct testimony of other witnesses, though even there it is conceded a directed verdict might be proper in some circumstances. Here, when all the testimony was in, the circumstantial evidence in support of negligence was thought by the trial judge to be so insubstantial and insufficient that it did not justify submission to the jury.'

We thus summarize and quote from the prevailing and dissenting opinions, because they present the divergent views to be considered in reaching a correct determination of the question involved. It, of course, is true, generally, that where there is a direct conflict of testimony upon a matter of fact, the question must be left to the jury to determine, without regard to the number of witnesses upon either side. But here there really is no conflict in the testimony as to the facts. The witnesses for petitioner flatly testified that there was no collision between the nine-car and the two-car strings. Bainbridge did not say there was such a collision. What he said was that he heard a 'loud crash,' which did not cause him at once to turn but that shortly thereafter he did turn and saw the two strings of cars moving together with the deceased no longer in sight; that there was nothing unusual about the crash of cars—it happened every day; that there was nothing about this crash to attract his attention except that it was extra loud; that he paid no attention to it; that it was not sufficient to attract his attention. The record shows that there was a continuous movement of cars over and down the 'hump,' which were distributed among a large number of branch tracks within the yard, and that any two strings of these cars moving upon the same track might have come together and caused the crash which Bainbridge heard. There is no direct evidence that in fact the crash was occasioned by a collision of the two strings in question; and it is perfectly clear that no such fact was brought to Bainbridge's attention as a perception of the physical sense of sight or of hearing. At most there was an inference to that effect drawn from observed facts which gave equal support to the opposite inference that the crash was occasioned by the coming together of other strings of cars entirely away from the scene of the accident, or of the two-car string ridden by deceased and the seven-car string immediately ahead of it.

We, therefore, have a case belonging to that class of cases where proven facts give equal support to each of two inconsistent inferences; in which event, neither of them being established, judgment, as a matter of law, must go against the party upon whom rests the necessity of sustaining one of these inferences as against the other, before he is entitled to recover. United States F. & G. Co. v. Des Moines Nat. Bank (C.C.A.) 145 F. 273, 279, 280, and cases cited; Ewing v. Goode (C.C.) 78 F. 442, 444; Louisville & N.R. Co. v. East Tennessee, V. & G. Ry. Co. (C.C.A.) 60 F. 993, 999; Tucker Stevedoring Co. v. W. H. Gahagan (D.C.) 6 F.(2d)...

To continue reading

Request your trial
484 cases
  • Ferguson v. Cormack Lines
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • February 25, 1957
    ...Valley R. Co., 288 U.S. 275, 53 S.Ct. 343, 77 L.Ed. 743; reversal of judgment for plaintiff reversed. Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Chamberlain, 288 U.S. 333, 53 S.Ct. 391, 77 L.Ed. 819; reversal of directed verdict for defendant reversed. 1933 Term. Northwestern Pacific R. Co. v. Robo, 290 U.S. 4......
  • Bethlehem Steel Co. v. National Labor R. Board
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • May 12, 1941
    ...reasonably be based upon either of them; in such a situation the evidence is equivocal. Pennsylvania Railroad Co. v. Chamberlain, Administratrix, 1933, 288 U. S. 333, 53 S.Ct. 391, 77 L.Ed. 819;8 Cupples Co. Manufacturers v. National Labor Relations Board, 8 Cir., 1939, 106 F.2d 100. As ill......
  • Gardner v. State of New Jersey
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • January 20, 1947
    ... ... United States Shipbuilding Co., C.C., 136 F. 1006, 1009, 1010; Pennsylvania Steel Co. v. New York City R. Co., 2 Cir., 198 F. 721, 740—742); and provided further that the late filing does not unduly delay the proceedings ... ...
  • Wichita Royalty Co. v. City Nat. Bank
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • June 10, 1933
    ...and authorities there cited. See, also, Ft. Worth Belt Ry. Co. v. Jones, 106 Tex. 345, 166 S. W. 1130; Penn. Ry. v. Chamberlain, 288 U. S. 333, 53 S. Ct. 391, 77 L. Ed. 819; authorities cited above holding that payment of a check drawn by a trustee against a deposit in his name does not of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • FNREL - Special Institute Natural Resources and Environmental Litigation (FNREL)
    • Invalid date
    ...there is sufficient or substantial evidence suggesting that the jury should decide for the non-movant, Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Chamberlain, 288 U.S. 333, 53 S.Ct. 391, 77 L.Ed. 819 (1933). A final standard involves determining whether the plaintiff's case has been proven by something close t......

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