ST. LOUIS, I.M. & S. RY. V. VICKERS, 122 U. S. 360 (1887)

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U.S. Supreme Court

St. Louis, I.M. & S. Ry. v. Vickers, 122 U.S. 360 (1887)

St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Ry. v. Vickers

Argued May 2, 1887

Decided May 27, 1887

122 U.S. 360




A state constitution cannot prohibit judges of the courts of the United States from charging juries with regard to matters of fact.

The defendant in error sued the plaintiff in error in a state court of Arkansas to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by him while a passenger on one of the trains of the company. On the defendant's motion, the cause was removed to the circuit court of the United States, where a general answer was made denying negligence and averring contributory negligence. The injuries were alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the defendant's employees in violently projecting a locomotive and one or more freight cars against the forward one of several cars, in the rear of one of which was the coach in which the plaintiff was a passenger. This occurred during the process of shifting cars at a place known as Barham's Station in Oachita County, Arkansas. It was alleged that the plaintiff was passing from the closet to his seat, and that the shock of the collision precipitated him upon the floor of the car with the result of the injuries of which he complained.

The defendant answered denying any negligence on its part or on the part of its employees and charging the plaintiff with contributory negligence.

The case was tried before a jury. It was shown in evidence that a violent storm was in progress at the time when the plaintiff received his injuries. The testimony conflicted materially as to the violence of the shock in the attempted coupling, as to whether it was extraordinary or not more than usual violence; as to the position of the plaintiff at the time the coupling was made; whether he had just left the closet and

Page 122 U. S. 361

was returning to his seat, or had been for some minutes standing in the aisle and looking out the rear door. There were also other points of conflict in the testimony.

The assignments of error were the following:

1. The court erred in instructing the jury as follows:

"Counsel for the plaintiff told you that you that you might find a verdict for plaintiff for any sum from one cent to $25,000, but a verdict for either of these sums would obviously be a false verdict, for if the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict at all, and upon this point you will probably have no difficulty, as the evidence clearly shows negligence and consequent liability on the defendant, though this is a question of fact exclusively within your province to determine -- I say, if plaintiff is entitled to a verdict at all, he is entitled to recover more than one cent, and it is equally clear that $25,000 would be greatly in excess of what he ought to recover."

2. The court erred in instructing the jury as follows:

"The plaintiff is entitled to a reasonable compensation for his injuries, and whether they were the result of the negligence of an agent of a corporation or a natural person can have no bearing in determining what that compensation shall be. "

Page 122 U. S. 363

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WAITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This judgment is affirmed on the authority of Vicksburg & Meridian Railroad Co. v. Putnam, 118 U. S. 545; Nudd v. Burrows, 91 U. S. 426, 91 U. S. 441; Indianapolis &c. Railroad v. Horst, 93 U. S. 291, 93 U. S. 299. A state constitution cannot, any more than a state statute, prohibit the judges of the courts of the United States from charging juries with regard to matter of fact.


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