SPRING COMPANY V. EDGAR, 99 U. S. 645 (1878)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Spring Company v. Edgar, 99 U.S. 645 (1878)

Spring Company v. Edgar

99 U.S. 645


1. This was an action against the proprietor of a park to recover for injuries sustained by A. from an attack by a male deer which, with other deer, was permitted to roam in the park, and which the declaration charged that the defendant knew to be dangerous. At the trial, evidence was introduced to show that the park was open and accessible to visitors; that A. was in the habit of visiting it, and when lawfully there was attacked by the deer and severely injured; that she had often seen deer -- about nine in number, three of whom were bucks, the oldest four years old -- running about on the lawn, and persons playing with them, and that she had there seen the sign, "Beware of the buck;" that the park contained about eleven acres; that notices were put up in the park a year or two before, cautioning visitors not to tease or worry the deer; that she had no knowledge or belief, prior to the attack

Page 99 U. S. 646

upon her, that the deer were dangerous, if not disturbed. Experts testified that in their opinion the male deer, at the season when the injury was sustained by A., was a dangerous animal. The bill of exceptions does not show that all the evidence for A. is set forth in it, or that the defendant introduced any. Held that a motion to dismiss the action, nonsuit the plaintiff, and to direct the jury to return a verdict for the defendant was properly denied.

2. The court called attention to the testimony of the experts, and instructed the jury that it was for them to determine its weight. Held that the instruction was proper.

3. The jury were also instructed not to believe any extravagant statement of the injuries received by the plaintiff, and that when they had made up their minds as to the amount really sustained, they should not be nice in the award of compensation, but that it should be liberal. The defendant did not request the instruction to be qualified or explained, or a different one given. Held that the charge in that respect furnishes no ground for reversing the judgment.

This is an action by Ann P. Edgar to recover from the Congress and Empire Spring Company $20,000 for personal injuries inflicted on her by a buck deer, the property of that company, in the Congress Spring Park at Saratoga Springs, New York.

The declaration charges that on and for a long time prior to Oct. 20, 1870, the defendant had been and was the owner and proprietor of "Congress Spring," from which the defendant has realized, and does realize, great gains and profits; that said spring has for a long time been kept open and accessible to the public generally, and all people have been invited to patronize its waters, in various forms, by the defendant; that, to make it more inviting and attractive, the defendant opened in connection therewith an extensive park, ornamented with fountains, trees, shrubbery, and flowers, through which extensive graveled walks are made for the comfort of those who indulge in the use of the mineral waters and enjoy the landscape; that further to enhance the attractions of said park, the defendant obtained and in some degree domesticated several wild deer, among them a large and powerful buck, with large and dangerous horns, but of vicious character and habits, known as the "Ugly Buck;" that the defendant, its officers and agents, well knowing that the said buck was vicious, and dangerous to be

Page 99 U. S. 647

permitted to run at large in said park, did permit him to run at large in said park, and while the plaintiff had on that day visited said springs to partake of the waters, and was in the day time peaceably proceeding along one of the walks in said park, constructed by the defendant for the comfort of visitors, he did fiercely attack the plaintiff with his horns, head, and feet, and did bite, bruise, and greatly lacerate her in various parts of her person.

The company, in addition to the general issue, interposed a plea that the damage and injury complained of by the plaintiff was occasioned by her own fault and negligence, and by her refusal to obey the reasonable rules and regulations of the company, and by her voluntary disregard of the express notice given her to keep off the grass in the grounds, and not to interfere with or molest the buck.

At the trial, the plaintiff testified that on the morning in question, after drinking at the spring, she walked through the grounds, and met a deer which attacked her, goring and striking her with his head and horns and greatly injuring her. On her cross-examination, she testified, in substance, that before the occurrence she had frequently been in the habit of going to Congress Spring Park to enjoy the water and the pleasure of a walk; that she noticed the deer in the park as early as 1866, and had often seen them running about on the lawn; that she had seen persons fondling the deer and playing with them on different occasions; and that she had noticed signboards through the park containing the notice, "Beware of the buck."

A witness for the plaintiff, introduced as an expert, testified that he was a dentist, and resided in Albany; that he was to some extent acquainted with the habits and nature of the deer, and had hunted them; that in his opinion the buck deer are not generally considered as dangerous, but that in the fall they are more dangerous than at other seasons. Another expert testified that he was a taxidermist, and had made natural history a study, and had read the standard authors in regard to the general characteristics of deer; that from his reading he was of opinion that the male deer, after they have attained their growth and become matured, are dangerous, and that during

Page 99 U. S. 648

the rutting season -- from the middle of September to the middle of December -- the buck deer are generally vicious. The defendant objects to all the testimony of the experts, on the ground that the witnesses had not shown themselves competent as experts, and that it was improper, immaterial, and incompetent; but the court overruled the objection, and the defendant excepted. Another witness for the plaintiff testified that the park contained about eleven acres; that in 1870 there were nine deer in the park, among them three bucks, the oldest of which was four years old; that he first learned that this buck was ugly when the plaintiff was knocked down; that in 1868, notices were put up in the park cautioning visitors not to tease or worry the deer; that such notices were posted at different places in the park; that the park was frequented by a great number of people, with the consent of the defendant, all through the season; that the object of keeping deer in the park was their beauty; that up to the time of the accident, he had no knowledge, information, or belief that a deer or buck, or this buck in the rutting season, or any other, ever attacked a person that was not disturbing or interfering with him.

The testimony having closed, the defendant moved that the action be dismissed, the plaintiff nonsuited, and that a verdict be directed in favor of the defendant, on the following grounds:

1. The evidence does not establish a cause of action.

2. It appears that the place where the accident happened was the private grounds of the defendant; that the plaintiff knew that the defendant kept in those grounds this buck and other deer, and went there with full knowledge of all the circumstances.

3. That the plaintiff is chargeable with the same knowledge of the character of the buck as the defendant.

4. That no knowledge by the defendant of the vicious character of the buck has been shown.

5. That if any negligence existed, the plaintiff was guilty of negligence equally with the defendant.

The court denied the motion, and the defendant duly excepted.

The court thereupon charged the jury, and among other things stated as follows:

"Some testimony has been produced

Page 99 U. S. 649

here by witnesses who have stated to you the result of their reading in natural history, and the result of the opinion expressed by hunters and sportsmen, as to the general characteristics of the deer; and it is for you to say how much is proved by that evidence. The plaintiff claims to show by that evidence that the deer at a certain season of the year is a dangerous animal. It is for you to say whether, after the cross-examination of the witnesses, you can arrive at that conclusion."

Upon the question of damages, the court, among other things, charged as follows:

"In these cases, while, upon the one hand, a jury should guard themselves against the exaggeration which so frequently, and I may say generally, characterizes the statements of the parties in regard to their injuries, and in regard to the damages they have sustained, upon the other hand, when you make up your mind as to the amount really sustained, you are not to be nice in the award of compensation. It should be liberal."

To the concluding portion of the charge the defendant excepted.

There was a verdict for the plaintiff for $6,500; and judgment having been rendered thereon, the defendant sued out this writ of error.

Page 99 U. S. 651

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