Kircher v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co.

32 Cal. 2d 176, 195 P.2d 427 (1948)



Common experience and observation teach us that strange and astonishing things sometimes happen in the world of physical phenomena, and accidents sometimes appear to happen in manner unaccountable. It is not to be supposed that witnesses to an accident that happens in the twinkling of an eye should accurately observe all the details. Much less is it probable that one who is injured in the accident, and rendered unconscious, should be able to give a correct account of all the quickly happening events. It cannot be laid down as a rule of law that a plaintiff in a personal injury case cannot recover unless the court can see that every detail of the accident, as testified to by the plaintiff and his witnesses, is consistent with admitted physical facts and the laws of science.


The trial court entered judgment based on a jury verdict in favor of the injured party in his action for damages for physical injuries he sustained at the company's railway station when his left hand was run over and practically severed by the company's train. he judgment for the injured party was made despite absence of eye-witnesses and conflicts in evidence. The railway company appealed from that judgment and insisted on its version of the accident.


Do inconsistencies in the testimony of an injured party automatically bar him from recovery?




The court ruled that it could not be held as a matter of law that the injured party's version of the accident was such as to contravene the laws of nature or to render the jury's acceptance of it unreasonable. The court noted that the jury was not compelled to find against the injured party because he could not with certainty relate the exact manner in which his accident happened. The court did not accept the company's contention that the injured party was only a licensee on its premises and that, therefore, the company was at most only liable for active negligence. The court noted that members of the public who went to a railway depot, as did the injured party, to meet persons arriving or departing on trains, were business visitors since it was a part of the business of a railway company to afford its passengers such conveniences. The court affirmed the judgment.

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