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Opinion of the Court.
2. On the part of the defendant it is contended that the plaintiff utterly failed to prove that Gentry was killed by a flat car coupled in front of a locomotive, as they alleged in their petition, or that his death was due to any negligence of the defendant; consequently, that the court should have directed a verdict for the defendant; that the undisputed facts of the case not only did not establish any actionable negligence on the part of the defendant, but, on the contrary, negatived such negligence; and that the court erred in instructing the jury that there was no dispute as to the cause of Gentry's death, and in allowing testimony to be introduced on that assumption.
The court did not err to the prejudice of the defendant, in saying to the jury that there was no dispute that Gentry was run over and killed by a flat car of the defendant propelled by a switch engine in its yards at Big Springs. Although no one saw the deceased, at the moment of his being run over, yet, under the evidence, all of which is before us, it was not possible for the jury to have doubted that the deceased was killed in the way stated by the court. If the jury had returned a verdict upon the theory that the evidence did not show that the deceased was killed by being run over by defendant's flat car coupled to one of its engines, it would have been the duty of the court, on motion, to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial. The fact of death in that mode was so clearly established that, if the case had turned alone upon that point, the court would have been authorized to direct a verdict for the plaintiffs. We think the court meant nothing more than that the fact of death being caused in the mode stated by it was placed by the evidence beyond dispute. If more was intended; if the court erroneously assumed that the defendant admitted the fact to be as stated, no error was committed to the substantial prejudice of the defendant; for, as already said, the evidence authorized a peremptory instruction that Gentry was killed by being run over by a flat car attached to one of defendant's engines.
Equally untenable is the proposition that the evidence did not tend to show actionable negligence on the part of the
Opinion of the Court.
defendant, and that the jury should have been so instructed. Whether the road engine and flat car used by the defendant on the occasion of Gentry's death were reasonably safe and fairly adapted for switching purposes, or were unsafe by reason of the way in which the light from the headlight on the engine struck the flat car and track of the road; whether, if the appliances used by the defendant for switching were found to be unsafe for such purposes, the deceased had full knowledge that they were not reasonably adapted to the uses to which they were put; whether the deceased, by his own negligence, contributed to his death-these matters were all submitted to the jury. And they were submitted with the direction to consider all the evidence in the case, and under an injunction that the defendant was not responsible for any negligence on the part of the fellow-servants of Gentry operating the switching train that killed him, and was only responsible in the event the jury found from all the evidence on the subject-"such as the opinion of the witnesses, the custom of this particular road, the effect of attaching flat cars, the effect of the engine light in lighting up the flat car and track, the effect of the pilot "that the switching machinery or appliances furnished and used by the company were unsafe to be used. If, looking at all the evidence and drawing such inferences therefrom as were just and reasonable, the court could have said, as matter of law, that the plaintiffs were not entitled to recover, an instruction to find for the defendant would have been proper. Pleasant v. Fant, 22 Wall. 116, 121; Montclair v. Dana, 107 U. S. 162; Randall v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 109 U. S. 478. If the evidence had been so meagre as not, in law, to justify a verdict for the party upon whom the burden of proof rested, the court would have been in the line of duty if it had so instructed the jury. Sparf & Hansen v. United States, 156 U. S. 51, 109. No such course was proper in this case, which was one peculiarly for the jury under appropriate instructions as to the principles of law by which they were to be guided in reaching a conclusion.
3. One of the assignments of error relates to the refusal of the court to give the following special instructions asked by
Opinion of the Court.
the defendant: "You are instructed that it is the duty of an employé or any other party, about to cross a railroad track, to look and listen for passing engines, cars or trains, to ascertain whether or not same are approaching before going upon the track, and if the party fails to exercise such care, he cannot recover. You are, therefore, instructed that if the deceased, L. D. Gentry, by looking or listening, could have known of the approach of the engine and car and in time to have kept off the track and prevented the injury to himself, and that he failed to do so, you will find for defendant.”
It is undoubtedly true, as claimed by the defendant, that the deceased was under a duty not to expose himself recklessly when about to cross the track of a railroad. In Railroad Co. v. Houston, 95 U. S. 697, 702, this court, after referring to certain acts of negligence upon the part of a railroad company which were alleged to have caused personal injuries, said: Negligence of the company's employés in these particulars was no excuse for negligence on her part. She was bound to listen and to look before attempting to cross the railroad track, in order to avoid an approaching train, and not to walk carelessly into the place of possible danger." To the same effect are Scholfield v. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, 114 U. S. 615, 618, and Aerkfetz v. Humphreys, 145 U. S. 418. But the present case did not admit of or require an instruction upon this special subject. There was no evidence upon which to rest such an instruction. As already stated, no one personally witnessed the crossing of the track by the deceased, nor the running of the flat car over him. Whether he did or did not stop, and look and listen for approaching trains, the jury could not tell from the evidence. The presumption is that he did; and if the court had given the special instructions asked, it would have been necessary to accompany it with the statement that there was no evidence upon the point, and that the law presumed that the deceased did look and listen for coming trains before crossing the track.
In Continental Improvement Co. v. Stead, 95 U. S. 161, 164, the court, speaking by Mr. Justice Bradley, upon the subject
Opinion of the Court.
of the relative rights and duties of a railroad company and the owner of a vehicle crossing its track, said: "Those who are crossing a railroad track are bound to exercise ordinary care and diligence to ascertain whether a train is approaching. They have, indeed, the greatest incentives to caution, for their lives are in imminent danger if collision happen; and hence it will not be presumed, without evidence, that they do not exercise proper care." This principle was approved in Baltimore & Ohio Railroad v. Griffith, 159 U. S. 603, 609. Manifestly it was not the duty of the court, when there was no evidence as to the deceased having or not having looked and listened for approaching trains before crossing the railroad track to do more, touching the question of contributory negli gence, than it did, namely, instruct the jury generally that the railroad company was not liable if the deceased by his own neglect contributed to his death, and that they could not find for the plaintiffs unless the death of the deceased was directly caused by unsafe switching appliances used by the defendant, and without fault or negligence on his part.
The counsel for the defendant in their elaborate brief say: "Plaintiffs below cannot claim that the headlight of the engine did not illuminate and make plain to any one the flat car. They may contend that the headlight blinded the deceased. If this be true, he knew that switch engines with flat cars attached in front and behind them were continuously moving in and about the yard, and if the light did blind him he knew then and there the blinding effects thereof, and it was as careless for him to step upon the track just in front of a car as it would have been for a blind man to have so acted. We submit that if he was blinded by the headlight that he was guilty of the grossest negligence, being blinded, in walking upon the track under the existing circumstances. We submit, however, that the evidence shows without contradiction that, by the exercise of ordinary care, he could have seen the flat car. We submit that a blind man who would attempt to cross the track just in front of the engine, the puffing and blowing of which he could hear, hoping to get across the track before the engine could strike him, would be guilty of the grossest negligence.
Opinion of the Court.
In this case the deceased was not blind. He could see the engine with its headlight illuminating fifteen or twenty feet of the flat car next to the deceased, and lighting up the track for some distance ahead."
It is sufficient to observe that the evidence touching the matters referred to by counsel was not so clear and satisfactory as to justify the taking of the case from the jury upon the issue whether the deceased exercised due care under the circumstances which attended the occasion. It was properly left to the jury to determine whether, under all the circumstances, the effect of the headlight and flat car combined was to make the situation secure and safe to one who saw the headlight, but did not see the flat car in front of the locomotive. "What may be deemed ordinary care in one case," this court has said, 'may, under different surroundings and circumstances, be gross negligence. The policy of the law has relegated the determination of such questions to the jury under proper instructions from the court. It is their province to note the special circumstances and surroundings of each particular case, and then say whether the conduct of the parties in that case was such as would be expected of reasonable, prudent men under a similar state of affairs. When a given state of facts is such that reasonable men may fairly differ upon the question as to whether there was negligence or not, the determination of the matter is for the jury. It is only where the facts are such that all reasonable men must draw the same conclusion from them, that the question of negligence is ever considered as one of law for the court." Grand Trunk Railway v. Ives, 144 U. S. 408, 417.
We find no error of law to the prejudice of the plaintiff in error, and the judgment is affirmed.