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Reid v. San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, Reid (Respondent), brought an action to recover damages for the killing of certain cattle by the trains of the Appellant, San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad (Appellant).
    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Where the undisputed evidence of the plaintiff, from which the existence of an essential fact is sought to be inferred, points with equal force to two things, one of which renders the defendant liable and the other not, the plaintiff must fail.

    Facts. Respondent brought an action to recover damages for the killing of certain cattle by the Petitioner’s trains. The complaint alleged that Appellant’s railroad passes through certain lands in Salt Lake County, Utah and that portions of the railroad were negligently maintained and operated resulting in Appellant’s train running over a heifer owned by Respondent. The complaint stated that a fence owned and operated by Appellant was broken and in poor repair. Additionally, Respondent stated that a gate, not owned or operated by Appellant was left open, which could have allowed the heifers to escape. Respondent further stated that he did not know whether the cattle escaped and were run over by Appellant’s trains by going through the fence or the gate. There was a verdict for Respondent and Appellant appealed the judgment entered on the verdict, contending that the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict since if failed to show where and under what circumstances the cattle sued for got upon the right of way.

    Issue. Whether the court should affirm a verdict against a defendant where the evidence supports two possibilities, one of which would impose liability on the defendant, while the second would not.

    Held. No. The trial court should have directed a verdict for Appellant. Where the undisputed evidence of the plaintiff, from which the existence of an essential fact is sought to be inferred, points with equal force to two things, one of which renders the defendant liable and the other not, the plaintiff must fail. In order for Respondent to recover, it was essential for her to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the cow entered upon the right of way through the broken down fence.

    Discussion. At issue here is what degree of inference the court will permit a jury to make. Essentially, when the court says that the evidence does not make it more likely than not that the defendant is liable (instead only making it as likely as not that a defendant is liable), then a verdict against a defendant cannot stand.


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