Vicksburg v. Putnam

Decision Date25 October 1886
Citation30 L.Ed. 257,118 U.S. 545,7 S.Ct. 1
PartiesVICKSBURG & M. R. Co. v. PUTNAM
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Statement of Case from pages 545-551 intentionally omitted] Edward M. Johnson, George Hoadly, and Edward Colston, for plaintiff in error.

Hoke Smith, for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 552 intentionally omitted]

GRAY, J.

This was an action against a railroad corporation for personal injuries received on September 16, 1881, by a passenger, then 49 years of age. The verdict was for the plaintiff in the sum of $16,000, and the defendant tendered a bill of exceptions, and sued out this writ of error. Some of the exceptions relate to rulings and instructions on the question of the defendant's liability, and others to the measure of damages. Those relating to the defendant's liability present no serious difficulty.

There being evidence tending to show that the accident was caused by a worn-out rail, it was, to say the least, within the discretion of the court to admit evidence that the general condition of that portion of the road which included the place where the accident occurred had long been bad, and that the rails had been in use for a great many years. Such evidence had some tendency to prove both that a worn-out rail was the cause of the accident, and that the defendant had neglected to repair the defect. The reports made by the superintendent to the board of directors in the course of his official duty, were competent evidence, as against the corporation, of the condition of the road.

In the courts of the United States, as in those of England, from which our practice was derived, the judge, in submitting a case to the jury, may, at his discretion, whenever he thinks it necessary to assist them in arriving at a just conclusion, comment upon the evidence, call their attention to parts of it which he thinks important, and express his opinion upon the facts; and the expression of such an opinion, when no rule of law is incorrectly stated, and all matters of fact are ultimately submitted to the determination of the jury, cannot be reviewed on writ of error. Carver v. Jackson, 4 Pet. 1, 80; Magniac v. Thomson, 7 Pet. 348, 390; Mitchell v. Harmony, 13 How. 115, 131; Transportation Line v. Hope, 95 U. S. 297, 302; Tayl. Ev. (8th Ed.) § 25. The powers of the courts of the United States in this respect are not controlled by the statutes of the state forbidding judges to express any opinion upon the facts. Nudd v. Burrows, 91 U. S. 426; Code Ga § 3248. The exceptions to so much of the judge's charge as bore upon the liability of the defendant cannot, therefore, be sustained.

We are then brought to a consideration of the exceptions which relate to the evidence admitted, and the instructions given upon the measure of damages.

In an action for a personal injury, the plaintiff is entitled to recover compensation, so far as it is susceptible of an estimate in money, for the loss and damage caused to him by the defendant's negligence, including, not only expenses incurred for medical attendance, and a reasonable sum for his pain and suffering, but also a fair recompense for the loss of what he would otherwise have earned in his trade or profession, and has been deprived of the capacity of earning, by the wrongful act of the defendant. Wade v. Leroy, 20 How. 34; Nebraska City v. Campbell, 2 Black, 590; Ballou v. Farnum, 11 Allen, 73; New Jersey Exp. Co. v. Nichols, 32 N. J. Law, 166; S. C. 33 N. J. Law, 434; Phillips v. London & S. W. Ry., 4 Q. B. Div. 406, 5 Q. B. Div. 78, and 5 C. P. Div. 280; S. C. 49 Law J. (Q. B.) 233.

In order to assist the jury in making such an estimate, standard life and annuity tables, showing, at any age, the probable duration of life, and the present value of a life annuity, are competent evidence. The D. S. Gregory, 2 Ben. 226, 239, S. C. affirmed 9 Wall. 513; Rowley v. London & N. W. Ry., L. R. 8 Exch. 221; Sauter v. New York Cent. R. R., 66 N. Y. 50; McDonald v. Chicago & N. W. R. R., 26 Iowa, 124, 140; Central R. R. v. Richards, 62 Ga. 306. But it has never been held that the rules to be derived from such tables or computations must be the absolute guides of the judgment and the conscience of the jury. On the contrary, in the important and much considered case of Phillips v. London & S. W. Ry. above cited, the judges strongly approved the usual practice of instructing the jury in general terms to award a fair and reasonable compensation, taking into consideration what the plaintiff's income would probably have been, how long it would have lasted, and all the contingencies to which it was liable; and as strongly deprecated undertaking to bind them by precise mathematical rules in deciding a question involving so many contingencies incapable of exact estimate or proof. See, especially, the opinions of Lord Justice BRETT and Lord Justice COTTON as reported in 49 Law J. (Q. B.) 237, 238, and less fully in 5 C. P. Div. 291, 293.

In the present case, it was not suggested by the defendant at the trial that the life-tables admitted in evidence were not standard tables, or...

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  • Kolkman v. People
    • United States
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    ... ... give to the jury an opinion on the truth of testimony in any ... In ... Vicksburg, etc., Railroad Co. v. Putnam, 118 U.S. 545, 553, 7 ... S.Ct. 1, 2, 30 L.Ed. 257, Mr. Justice Gray, in disposing of ... an exception to the trial ... ...
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2 books & journal articles
  • § 2.05 Judicial Commenting on Evidence
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Evidence (2018) Title Chapter 2 Roles of Judge and Jury: FRE 614
    • Invalid date
    ...provided he makes it clear to the jury that all matters of fact are submitted to their determination."); Vicksburg & M.R. Co. v. Putnam, 118 U.S. 545, 553 (1886) (In submitting a case to the jury, the trial judge may "comment upon the evidence, call their attention to parts of it which he t......
  • § 2.05 JUDICIAL COMMENTING ON EVIDENCE
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Evidence (CAP) Title Chapter 2 Roles of Judge and Jury: Fre 614
    • Invalid date
    ...provided he makes it clear to the jury that all matters of fact are submitted to their determination."); Vicksburg & M.R. Co. v. Putnam, 118 U.S. 545, 553 (1886) (In submitting a case to the jury, the trial judge may "comment upon the evidence, call their attention to parts of it which he t......

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