Stevens v. Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Company

Citation32 So. 311,81 Miss. 195
Decision Date08 December 1902
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi

October 1902

FROM the circuit court of, second district, Hinds county. HON ROBERT POWELL, Judge.

Stevens appellant, was plaintiff in the court below, the railroad company appellee, was defendant there. From a judgment in defendant's favor plaintiff appealed to the supreme court. The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

Reversed and remanded.

Harper & Potter, for appellant.

This action was brought by appellant to recover damages for personal injuries received by him while walking near the track of appellee from a train running at an unlawful speed in the city of Jackson. The tracks where he was walking when injured, had been generally used as a pathway by the public in that part of the town for twenty years. This was known to the company and acquiesced in by its officers. Plaintiff knew that the railroad was used at that place as a thoroughfare.

The mere fact that appellant went upon the track does not of itself amount to negligence, even had he been a naked trespasser. This is absolutely settled in this state, in the case of Railway Company v. Carter, 77 Miss. 511.

"The statute prohibiting rapid running in cities, towns and villages was designed to protect life and property, because of the known imprudence of the many who need protection against themselves." V. & M. R. R. Co. v McGowan, 62 Miss. 682; Fulmer v. Railway Co., 68 Miss. 355.

This question being settled by reason and authority in favor of appellant, it becomes a matter of extreme difficulty to discover wherein plaintiff failed to use the care and caution that a man of ordinary prudence would in this situation.

When placed in a position of peril no two reasonable men will necessarily act in the same manner, and it may be that the same reasonable person might not act in the same way on two different occasions, where the circumstances were the same.

Appellant shows that at the rate that he was walking (between three and four miles per hour) he was only able to travel eighteen or twenty steps before he was overtaken by the train that in the short time of ten seconds had traveled four hundred and sixty feet, or at a speed of about twenty miles an hour.

In such a situation and in so short a time to have stopped to mature a course of action that would be unassailable, would of itself be the very grossest negligence; he must act at once on his best judgment.

If the mere fact that a person erred and was injured be the criterion, the law would be without purpose, because if the judgment of men were infallible, there could be no accidents of this character.

The courts having seen that no man, however learned, can with absolute precision determine what a man of ordinary capacity and prudence would do in a given case, are disinclined to pass on such questions, and have determined that it shall ordinarily be a question of fact for the determination of men of ordinary capacity and prudence, as they are found in the common walks of life, unless the facts are such that all reasonable men would be impelled to one irresistible conclusion that there had been a failure to act with reasonable prudence under the circumstances of the case. In the case at bar the evidence shows that appellant was giving his full attention to his situation, and was never slothful or negligent, but when he left the track after seeing the train upon it, he feared that he might come in contact with engines or cars from the front, where he heard them moving and knew they were, and for the very few seconds that remained before the injury, he was watching in that quarter, from which he had a reason to apprehend danger. He shows that he was still mindful of the train that he thought was the Illinois Central Cannon Ball, and would have looked back and seen it in a second more, had he been mercifully allowed that very short time of preparation.

The track that he was approaching he believed to be a switch track, and on which he says he knew a passenger train would not go; which was a reasonable belief in view of the fact that the map and other evidence shows it to come into and connect with the main line as Only switch tracks usually do, and this was an additional reason for prudence on the part of the railroad company.

We invite the court's critical attention to the recent case of Law v. Missouri K. & T. R. R. Co. (Texas), 25 Am. & Eng. R. Cases, 582 (N. S.), where the plaintiff was walking on the tracks of the company and was struck from his front. A strong wind was blowing that prevented his hearing the approaching train, and kept his hat blown down over his eyes; he had, however, looked up and seen that there was no danger in front from any train approaching at a lawful speed, and as he apprehended danger from the rear he was watching in that direction when he was run down by a train from the front. There were no signals given or precaution taken by the servants of the company.

In speaking on this subject, Sher. & Red. on Negligence say in sec. 477: "A person is not deprived of his remedy because when confused by a multiplicity of tracks and trains, or by noise and danger, he fails to see the particular train which injures him. " His attention may be so diverted by that, quite consistent with due care and prudence, he may fail to look and listen at the proper time, and if so, his omission is excused.

When a want of care is relied upon as a defense, unless the evidence of contributory negligence is so plain and convincing that all reasonable men would draw the same inference from the facts adduced, it is a question of fact for the jury. Nesbitt v. City of Greenville, 69 Miss. 22; Fulmer v. Railway Co., 68 Miss. 355; Summers v. Railway Co., 68 Miss. 566; Jobe v. Railway Co., 69 Miss. 452; Railway Co. v. Turner, 71 Miss. 402.

"So many questions are integrated usually with the solution of the question of negligence, it is so necessary to carefully examine all the circumstances making up the situation in each case that it must be a rare case of negligence which the court will take from the jury." Bell v. Southern Ry. Co. (Miss.), 24 Am. & Eng. R. Cases (N. S.), 67.

Mayes & Harris, for appellee.

The extreme to which appellant was driven in this case is demonstrated by the startling proposition urged in argument that the six mile statute was passed for the protection of trespassers. Could it be possible that it would be necessary for us to advert to the fact that laws are not passed for the benefit of wrongdoers, and rules of law are not established for their protection?

The rule as to trespassers remains unchanged and unaffected by this statute. The court has held that as to trespassers and to bare licensees the company owes no duty except not to wantonly and wilfully injure them, and to exercise due care to prevent injury where the trespasser has been discovered in a place of danger from which he can not extricate himself.

In the case at bar the plaintiff was a wrongdoer from the very start. He was in the switch yards of the railroad company at a time of day when he knew that trains were likely to be passing upon any track in that yard. He went there upon no sort of implied invitation from the railroad company, but simply for his own convenience.

This is not a case in which a party at a public crossing, where he has a right to be, is confused or misled by conditions which arise and sustains injury. It is not a case in which a party is rightfully at the place where he is injured, and the question as to whether he exercised due care or not arises, but it is a case where the party undertook a most hazardous journey on his own account and for his own convenience where he could, and should, have expected injury, and where that resulted which was most likely to result. He was unnecessarily on the track; he had left a place where he was perfectly safe, where he could not have been hit by any switch engine behind or before, and from which place of safety he should not have departed, and from which place of safety he should have looked out for himself before going upon the track of the railroad company. He was not in a position to indulge any presumption as to the movement of the train which hurt him. He knew the train was approaching him from behind; he knew that it was just as likely to be the Natchez train as any other train; he thought he was going on a sidetrack, but he was going on a main line.

This case presents no peculiar or intricate facts, and there is no case which has been cited by counsel in their brief which would warrant a reversal of this case, and there is no principle cited from the text writers based upon any decisions, so far as we have been able to find, which bear out or support the contention of counsel for the appellant. It is an attempt on their part to have the court override in this particular case those principles which have been long established and recognized in this court, and should be recognized in all courts of justice, and that is, that where there is a case, as here, of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff, a recovery should be denied.

Counsel for appellant has relied upon the following decisions in this state.

1. Fulmer v. R. R. Co., 68 Miss. 355. That case is absolutely inapplicable to the case at bar, because in that case, Fulmer was run over by a car making a flying switch over a public crossing on which Fulmer was at the time he was killed.

2. Summers v. R. R. Co., 68 Miss. 566, is a case in which a woman walking on what was known to be and admitted to be a switch or sidetrack, and who had seen a train pass down on the main line going beyond her, was struck by a cut of cars thrown in...

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