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Lavender v. Kurn

United States Supreme Court
327 U.S. 645 (1946)


Facts

The administrator of the estate of L.E. Haney (administrator) (plaintiff) brought suit against the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company (Frisco) and the Illinois Central Railroad Company (Illinois Central) (defendants) for the death of Haney while he was working one night at a railroad station owned by Illinois Central. Haney was employed by Illinois Central and his job was to throw the switches for Illinois Central and other trains that passed through the station, including Frisco’s. It was very dark the night of his death and there were no eyewitnesses. Haney threw open the switch for a Frisco train that was passing through the station, but the switch was never closed—which was also Haney’s duty—and Haney was later found dead face down with a fractured skull. He had been struck in the back of the head by something. The administrator claimed he was hit in the head by a mail hook hanging off of the Frisco train. There was high and uneven ground along the side of the tracks that at some places (but not all) would put Haney’s head in range of a hanging mail hook. The defendants contended that Haney was murdered and struck in the head by the murderer. There was evidence that tended to show that a hook could not have hit Haney and there were facts that supported an inference that he was murdered. The Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis sent the issue to a jury and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the administrator. The Supreme Court of Missouri reversed the judgment, finding that there were not sufficient facts to support the jury’s conclusion. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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Holding and Reasoning (Murphy, J.)

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