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NEW ORLEANS & NORTHEASTERN RAILROAD COMPANY ET AL. v. HARRIS

June 3, 1918

NEW ORLEANS & NORTHEASTERN RAILROAD COMPANY ET AL
v.
HARRIS, ADMINISTRATRIX OF HARRIS



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke

Author: Mcreynolds

[ 247 U.S. Page 368]

 MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the court.

While employed in interstate commerce by plaintiff in error, a common carrier by railroad then engaging in such commerce, Van Harris a brakeman was run over by the tender of an engine moving in the yard at New Orleans, Louisiana -- February 5, 1914. He died within a few minutes without regaining consciousness. Having qualified as administratrix, his mother (defendant in error), charging negligence and relying upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act, sued for damages in a state court for Lauderdale County, Mississippi. A judgment in her favor was affirmed by the Supreme Court without opinion.

[ 247 U.S. Page 369]

     The declaration contained no averment of conscious pain or suffering by deceased. It alleged: "That by reason of the negligence hereinabove set out, the defendant railroad company is liable for the killing of said Van Harris and the administratrix is given the right to sue by the Act of Congress, she therefore brings this, her suit, and demands judgment against the defendant for the sum of ten thousand dollars." It further charged that the dead son had been his mother's sole support but contained no reference to his widow.

One witness who claimed to have seen the accident gave evidence tending to show negligence by the railroad; but his presence at the scene was not left free from doubt and other eye witnesses narrated the circumstances differently. Concerning deceased's contributions to his mother's support, she said he was her sole dependence, paid her house rent, gave her something to eat, looked after her, was regularly at work and would bring home thirty or forty dollars a month. Her statements are the only evidence concerning the son's marriage and widow. He duly married Mollie on an undisclosed date; after living together for six months he fell ill and she left; thereafter her whereabouts were unknown to him; she was alive at time of trial (October, 1914); he left no child. Nothing indicates a divorce proceeding. Answering "Do you know whether Mollie ever married anybody else or not?" the witness replied, "I don't know sir; I hear them say she married."

Upon request of the administratrix, the following instructions (among others) were given to the jury:

"No. 1. The court charges the jury for the plaintiff in this case that under the rule of evidence in the State of Mississippi all that is required of the plaintiff in this case is to prove that injury was inflicted by the movement of the defendant's train or engine and then the law presumes negligence and then the burden of proof shifts to the

[ 247 U.S. Page 370]

     defendant to prove all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury and from those facts so shown exonerate itself from all negligence.

"No. 2. The court charges the jury for the plaintiff that under the rule of evidence under the Mississippi statutes known as the prima facie statute all that the plaintiff need prove to entitle her to a judgment or verdict is that the defendant's engine or train caused the injury complained of and then the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict at the hands of the jury unless the defendant has shown all of the facts surrounding the injury and from such facts has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that its servants were not guilty of negligence.

"No. 3. The court charges the jury for the plaintiff that if you believe from the evidence that deceased was injured by the running of defendant's engine, then the burden placed on defendant by the prima facie statute cannot be met or overcome by mere speculation or conjecture, but it devolves on defendant the duty of showing by a preponderance of the evidence all of the facts ...


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