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December 7, 1903



Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Mckenna

[ 191 U.S. Page 471]

 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The correctness of the ruling in denying the motion to instruct the jury to find a verdict for the plaintiffs in error depends upon the correctness of the ruling in granting or refusing the special instructions prayed. The principles embraced in them are but specifications of the legal propositions contained in the motion and upon which its soundness or unsoundness depended. If the ruling of the court was right on those instructions it was right on denying the motion. We proceed, therefore, to the consideration of the propositions embraced in the instructions.

The charge of the defendant in error is that the railroad companies were guilty of negligence. The railroads deny this, and claim besides that the deceased came to his death by his own negligence, or by negligence which contributed to that result. As an element in the question of the entire innocence of the railroad companies there is involved the construction and effect of the evidence in regard to the coupling of the cars and the sufficiency of the light upon the Pullman car to give notice and warning of its approach. In regard, however, to that evidence the instructions of the court are not questioned in this court. No error is assigned on them here, and whatever of argument is addressed to them or to the evidence is intended to show that those acts, even if they were acts of negligence, were not effective causes of the injury of the deceased, but that his own negligence was such cause. The determination of the contentions of plaintiffs in error, therefore, depends upon the question of the negligence of the deceased, and the instructions given in relation thereto. At the request of the plaintiff in the action, defendant in error here, the court instructed the jury as follows:

"1. In the absence of all evidence tending to show whether the plaintiff's intestate stopped, looked and listened before attempting to cross the south track, the presumption would

[ 191 U.S. Page 472]

     be that he did. But that presumption may be rebutted by circumstantial evidence, and it is a question for the jury whether the facts and circumstances proved in this case rebut that presumption, and if they find that they do, they should find that he did not stop and look and listen, but if the facts and circumstances fail to rebut such presumption then the jury should find that he did so stop and look and listen. In order to justify them in finding that he did not, all the evidence tending to show that should be weightier in the minds of the jury than that tending to show the contrary.

"2. The jury are instructed that if they believe from the evidence that the gates at the crossing where the deceased received his injury were generally kept down at night from 10:30 or 11 o'clock until the early morning, without regard to the approach or presence of a car, a train, or trains or locomotives, and shall further conclude from all the facts and circumstances of the case that the deceased had knowledge of that fact, then the circumstance that the gates at the intersection of South Capitol street were down at the time of the accident was not of itself a warning to him of the presence of danger, and contributory negligence cannot be imputed to him from that fact alone.

"3. While knowledge by the deceased of the presence of the Fenton engine on the north track or partly upon the South Capitol street crossing and the approach of No. 78 upon one of the central tracks at or near the time of the accident might or would indicate the presence of danger on or near those tracks, it is for the jury to determine upon all the facts of this case whether it was a want of ordinary or reasonable care and prudence upon his part to be upon the south track, at the point upon said last-named track at which they shall find from the evidence the accident occurred."

The defendants, plaintiffs in error here, submitted instructions to the court which were emphatic contraries of the instructions given at the request of the plaintiff, and expressed the law to be that the fact of the gates being down was of itself

[ 191 U.S. Page 473]

     a warning to the deceased; and further, if he disregarded the warning, he was guilty of contributory negligence; and that the gates being down, they were "closed or lowered for all trains, cars or engines which were moving or passing or which might move or pass upon all or any of said tracks at said crossing and were a warning of danger which the plaintiff's intestate was bound to heed, and if the jury shall find that the plaintiff's intestate met his death by going under said gates and upon or so near to one of said tracks as to be ...

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