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Under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (Act), 45 U.S.C.S. § 51, the test of a jury case is simply whether the proofs justify with reason the conclusion that employer negligence played any part in producing the injury. It does not matter that, from the evidence, the jury may also with reason, on grounds of probability, attribute the result to other causes. Judicial appraisal of the proofs to determine whether a jury question is presented is narrowly limited to the single inquiry whether, with reason, the conclusion may be drawn that negligence of the employer played any part at all in the injury or death. Judges are to fix their sights primarily to make that appraisal and, if that test is met, are bound to find that a case for the jury is made out whether or not the evidence allows the jury a choice of other probabilities.
Petitioner Gallick, a railroad spotting crew foreman brought suit against the railroad under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 USC 51 et seq.) in the Common Pleas Court of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, alleging that he was bitten by an insect while working on the railroad's right of way, resulting in injury or disease necessitating the amputation of both his legs, and that the railroad was negligent both in permitting a stagnant pool on the right of way to accumulate dead vermin and attract insects, and in its furnishing a defective and unsafe place for the petitioner’s work. Pursuant to the Ohio special verdict statute, under which no general verdict was rendered by the jury, the court submitted 23 numbered interrogatories to the jury, which returned a verdict for petitioner. The trial court entered judgment awarding damages to petitioner. The state appellate court reversed on the ground that proof of a causal connection between the negligence and damage fell short of that required for the consideration of a jury. When the state supreme court refused a further appeal, the petitioner petitioned for and was granted certiorari for further review.
Was the appellate court correct in overturning the finding of negligence by the jury?
The Court reversed the judgment of the appellate court, finding that the court of appeals improperly invaded the function of the jury because the evidence was sufficient to warrant the jury's conclusion that the injuries were caused by the acts or omissions of the employer. The Court determined that it was not the function of the court of appeals to search the record for conflicting circumstantial evidence in order to take the case away from the jury on a theory that gave equal support to inconsistent and uncertain inferences after the jury concluded that the employer was negligent. According to the Court, courts were not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or conclusions or because judges feel that other results were more reasonable.