Western Atlantic v. Hughes

Decision Date18 February 1929
Docket NumberNo. 234,234
Citation73 L.Ed. 473,278 U.S. 496,49 S.Ct. 231
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Fitzgerald Hall, of Nashville, Tenn., for petitioner.

Mr. Reuben R. Arnold, or Atlanta, Ga., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Ira L. Hughes, a traveling fireman, was killed on the Western & Atlantic Railroad while engaged in the performance of his duties. His widow, as administratrix brought this action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 USCA §§ 51-59) in a state court of Georgia. She recovered a verdict of $17,500, which was set aside as excessive by the presiding judge. At the second trial before another judge and jury a verdict was rendered for $10,000. A motion for a new trial was overruled. Judgment was entered on this verdict; and it was affirmed by the intermediate appellate court. The Supreme Court of the state refused a certiorari. This court granted the writ. 278 U. S. 588, 49 S. Ct. 18, 73 L. Ed. —.

Hughes was killed while riding on a locomotive moving in interstate commerce. The plaintiff claimed that he was knocked from the running board and thrown against an up-right on a bridge as the train entered it; that the accident resulted from an unusual rocking of the engine from side to side, due to the defective condition of the track leading to the bridge; that the railroad had been negligent in permitting the track to remain in bad condition; and that this negligence was the proximate cause of the injury. The railroad claimed that the alleged cause of the accident was mere speculation. It denied that the track was in bad condition, denied that its condition had produced the alleged swaying of the locomotive, denied that it had been guilty of any negligence, insisted that the accident was the result of Hughes' gross negligence and his disobedience of the company's rules, claimed that he had assumed the risk, and requested a directed verdict. The request was denied.

The railroad asserts that the scintilla of evidence rule prevails in Georgia, and argues that the lower courts erred by applying the local rule in this case. It is true that submission to the jury of contested issues of fact is not required in the federal courts, if there is only a scintilla of evidence, Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Groeger, 266 U. S. 521, 524, 45 S. Ct. 169, 69 L. Ed. 419; that it is the duty of the judge to direct the verdict, when the testimony and all inference which the jury could justifiably draw therefrom would be insufficient to support a verdict for the other party, Elliott v. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Co., 150 U. S. 245, 14 S. Ct. 85, 37 L. Ed. 1068; Small Co. v. Lamborn & Co., 267 U. S. 248, 254, 45 S. Ct. 300, 69 L. Ed. 597; and that this federal rule must be applied by state courts in cases arising under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Co. v. Coogan, 271 U. S. 472, 474, 46 S. Ct. 564, 70 L. Ed. 1041; Gulf, Mobile & Northern R. Co. v. Wells, 275 U. S. 455, 457, 48 S. Ct. 151, 72 L. Ed. 370; Toledo, St. Louis & Western R. Co. v. Allen, 276 U. S. 165, 168, 48 S. Ct. 215, 72 L. Ed. 513. We need not consider whether the rule prevailing in Georgia differs substantially from the federal rule.1 For even under the federal rule it was proper to submit the case to the jury. The evidence introduced by the plaintiff was substantial; and was sufficient if believed, to sustain a verdict in her favor. There was much conflict in the evidence. The first trial occupied five days. At the second trial 33 witnesses testified. Some of the testimony given by witnesses for the railroad would, if believed, have entitled it to the verdict as a matter of law. Some of the testimony given by witnesses called by the plaintiff does not seem to us persuasive. But the credibility of the witnesses and the weight of the evidence were obviously...

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