Brown v. Kendall

US Tort Law

Brown v. Kendall
‘Dog Fight’ by Vladimir I

Burden of proof in an action for trespass and assault and battery falls subject to examination when after a fight between two dogs, the plaintiff is left seriously injured and in want of redress.

In 1850, the two parties were caught up in a vicious dog fight involving their respective animals, and while the now deceased defendant took deliberate steps to separate them, the plaintiff was accidentally struck in the eye by the defendant’s walking stick, as he stepped backwards during the melee.

In response, the plaintiff commenced a suit for tortious damages for trespass vi et armis (trespass by force and arms) on the supposition that the injurious blow was a deliberate act, and that the carelessness and neglect of the defendant was the cause, and not the location of the plaintiff when the stick was drawn back.

As was common at the time of litigation, Chapter 93 § 7 of the Massachusetts Revised Statutes allowed clams for assault and battery to stand, despite the death of the accused, and so following his passing, the defendant was represented by his executrix, whereupon the district court judge instructed the jury to decide upon the principle that:

“If the jury believe, that it was the duty of the defendant to interfere, then the burden of proving negligence on the part of the defendant, and ordinary care on the part of the plaintiff, is on the plaintiff. If the jury believe, that the act of interference in the fight was unnecessary, then the burden of proving extraordinary care on the part of the defendant, or want of ordinary care on the part of the plaintiff, is on defendant.”

On this occasion, the jury returned a verdict in favour of the plaintiff, while the executrix sought to challenge the finding in the Massachusetts Supreme Court, on the insistence that the injury was accidental and potentially unavoidable on the part of her late husband.

Here, the court relied upon Powers v. Russell, in which Shaw CJ had held that in instances:

“[W]here the party having the burden of proof gives competent and prima facie evidence of a fact, and the adverse party, instead of producing proof which would go to negative the same proposition of fact, proposes to show another and a distinct proposition which avoids the effect of it, there the burden of proof shifts, and rests upon the party proposing to show the latter fact.”

Which indicated that unless the plaintiff could show sound reasoning why the injury arose through negligence, there was insufficient grounds for a jury to decide with confidence, thus the court was now convinced that when choosing to separate the two animals, the deceased was, by virtue of his avoiding potential harm to his dog, acting lawfully and within his rights as an owner, and so while moving backwards with his fullest attentions on the fight, it was held by the court that:

“If the act of hitting the plaintiff was unintentional, on the part of the defendant, and done in the doing of a lawful act, then the defendant was not liable, unless it was done in the want of exercise of due care adapted to the exigency of the case, and therefore such want of due care became part of the plaintiff’s case, and the burden of proof was on the plaintiff to establish it.”

Upon which the previous verdict was dismissed and a new trial ordered on the pretence that unless irrefutable evidence could provide that the defendant had been wilfully negligent in an act of carelessness, there was simply no legal basis for recovery by the plaintiff.

Martin v. Herzog

US Tort Law

Martin v Herzog
Image: ‘Horse Drawn Cabs at Evening, New York’ by Frederick Childe Hassam

Liability for negligence arising from a breach of statute is unquestionable in terms of culpability, however when both parties have acted beyond their prescribed rights, it becomes a matter of priority in reaching summary judgment.

In dusk of August 21 1915, a husband and wife were entering a stretch of road in a wagon, that whilst doing so on a bend, was unequipped with lights, as required by s.286 of the New York Highway Laws 1909, which explained that:

“Every motor vehicle, operated or driven upon the public highways of this state…shall, during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, display at least two lighted lamps on the front and on the rear of such vehicle…”

It was at this point that a car driven by the now appellant collided with the wagon, killing the respondent’s husband. Upon litigation, the appellant remarked that he was unable to see the wagon, and thus had been straining to peer into the darkness at the time of the accident. In defence, the respondent argued that the inability to avoid the wagon constituted negligence under s.332(1) of the same Act, and which read:

“Whenever a person operating a motor vehicle shall meet on a public highway any other person riding or driving a horse or horses or other draft animals or any other vehicle, the person so operating such motor vehicle shall seasonably turn the same to the right of the centre of such highways so as to pass without interference.”

In the first instance, the jury upheld the respondent’s contention of negligent driving, while reducing the culpability of the deceased to that of contributory negligence when failing to upholster his vehicle with lights. The matter was then put before the Appellate Division, who reversed the judgment in favour of the appellant.

Challenged again, the New York Supreme Court examined the importance of statute, further noting that while both sections were essentially safeguarding the rights and lives of road users, the failure to install and use lights was by design, tantamount to absolute negligence, as had been found in both Massoth v. D & H Canal Co. and Cordell v. N.Y.C & H.R.R. Co.

It was also held that legislation is not something privy to the whims of a jury, regardless of how trivial such details might appear when taken in context, and that the misdirection of the trial judge was unlawful and in therefore in need of redress. So it was for these reasons, that the appellate court ruling was sustained and damages awarded to the appellant with costs.

Anderson v. Minneapolis, St.Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway Co.

US Tort Law

Anderson v Minneapolis
Image: ‘Train Painting’ by William Wray

The amendment of pleadings is an American civil right when free from the misdirection of a jury, and so on this occasion the intermingling of two events resulting in the destruction of property, allowed the claimant to establish reasonable causation before enjoying the benefits of restorative justice.

In August of 1918, it was alleged that sparks emitted from a locomotive engine owned by the defendants caused a bog fire that while unextinguished, continued to burn for an extended period, largely due to the usual drought conditions at the time. During early October, there were winds in excess of 75 miles per hour, which exacerbated the existing fire, while driving it towards the home of the claimant.

It was the subsequent effects of this natural occurrence that left the claimant’s home damaged and thus both the railway company and the Director General of Railroads ended up in the courts as co-defendants, as was permissible under § 10 of the Federal Control Act.

During the trial, there were two options open to the jury for a safe conviction, namely:

“If plaintiff was burned out by fire set by one of defendant’s engines in combination with some other fire not set by one of its engines, then it is liable.”

or:

“If the bog fire was set by one of defendant’s engines, and if one of defendant’s engines also set a fire or fires west of Kettle River, and those fires combined and burned over plaintiff’s property, then the defendant is liable.”

With confusion as to how best to approach the claim, the jury asked for confirmation as to whether liability could be found if it was agreed that the fire caused by the locomotive engine was significant enough to have been the primary contributor to the eventual fire that caused the damage, at which point the court agreed that it would. It was then that the claimant amended his pleading to one where both fires had been the sole cause of destruction to his home, as opposed to that of the bog fire alone.

While returning a verdict in favour of the claimant, the defendants argued that such pleading allowances were unlawful, before appealing to the St. Louis District Court, who denied a motion for a retrial, while allowing for the consideration of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Here consideration was given to both the discretion of the courts to allow for claim amendments, and the extent to which the Director General of Railroads is lawfully implicated. In the first instance, the Court explained how § 7784 of Ch. 77 of the Minnesota Statutes 1913 noted that:

“No variance between the allegations in the pleading and the proof is material unless it has actually misled the adverse party to his prejudice in maintaining his action or defence on the merits.”

Which on this occasion the court had already established which fires were attributable to the defendants, and at no point had any objection or evidence been shown to prove otherwise, while under § 4426 of Ch. 28 of the Minnesota Statutes 1913 also made it clear that:

“Each railroad corporation owning or operating a railroad in this state shall be responsible in damages to every person and corporation whose property may be injured or destroyed by fire communicated directly or indirectly by the locomotive engines in use upon the railroad owned or operated by such railroad corporation…”

It was further held that within the terms of the Transportation Act of 1920, Congress conferred no express limitations as to the powers of the Federal Control Act, and that evidence of this was available under §§ 202 and 206 of the amended statute, and so it was that for these reasons the Court refused to reverse the original decision and dismissed the appeal.