Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner, administrator of the estate of L.E. Haney, a railroad employee, sued Respondents, two railroad companies, under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) for Haney’s death, which occurred while he was working. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Petitioner. The Respondents appealed and the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the jury’s verdict, holding that there was not substantial evidence of negligence to support a verdict for Petitioner. Petitioner filed a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A jury’s finding of fact cannot be overturned unless there are no probative facts on the record to support such finding or it is otherwise so unreasonable as to be taken away from the jury.
It is not the function of an appellate court to weigh conflicting evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses and arrive at a conclusion opposite from the one reached by the jury, where there is a reasonable basis in the record for the jury's verdict.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Does the evidence presented at trial, when viewed in the light most favorable to Petitioner, support an inference that the decedent could have been hit by an object sticking out of Respondent’s train?
Held. Yes. Reversed and remanded.
A jury’s verdict must only be overturned if there are no probative facts to support inferences necessary for the jury to find in favor of the prevailing party or the verdict is so unreasonable that the case should not have been submitted to the jury in the first place.
There is a reasonable basis to infer that the mail hook hit Haney in the back of the head. There was testimony presented that the mail hook could have extended 12-14 inches from the train, that Haney could have been beside the train standing on a mound, and that the hook would have hit him when the train passed by.
When there are disputed facts so that different reasonable inferences can be made from the same evidence presented, then the reasonable inference that the jury chooses cannot be reversed merely because there may be some speculation and conjecture involved. Therefore, Respondents evidence that Haney was murdered does not mandate that the jury credit it over the evidence presented by Haney’s estate.
In addition, the jury could reasonably find that Illinois Central was responsible for the dark working conditions and that these conditions contributed to Haney’s death.
Dissent. Justice Reed dissents.
Discussion. A jury’s verdict cannot be reversed merely because the court finds another inference that it deems more reasonable or because there is evidence supporting the losing party’s theories of the case. If there are facts on the record that can support a reasonable inference in favor of the prevailing party, the jury’s verdict will not be overturned.