The Law School Authority

Lavender v. Kurn Case Brief

Summary of Lavender v. Kurn, U.S. Supreme Court (1946)

Cause of action: The following is a cause of action for reestablish verdict for petitioner in trial court.

Procedural History: Trial circuit court jury found in favor of plaintiff, suing for estate of decedent, award in the amount of $30K.  Reversed on appeal in Supreme Court of Missouri, holding there was not enough evidence for the jury to come back with enough of an educated verdict. [see rule 50(a)(1)]

Facts: Decedent found dead on train tracks.  He was a switch operator for train company, and both sides presented evidence on either side: one contended he was killed as a result of a mail hook protruding from one of the mail cars, while the other side countered with the argument he was murdered, as his wallet was found several feet away from him with no money in it.

Decedent’s wife claims he never carried a lot of money on him ever, and that since his watch and jewelry were found on his person at the time he was found, murder for money would be silly because his more valuable items were left on him.

Defense countered with some math, finding it would be very improbable for decedent to have died by a “negligent act” such as a mail hook, however petitioner claims the math makes sense if decedent was stumbling around before he was killed.

Issue(s): All contentions being equal, was there enough evidence to sustain the jury’s verdict in favor of the decendent’s?  Should the verdict be allowed to stand on its face or should it be contended on the theory the jury did not have enough evidence to make an educated decision?

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: All the court needs is sufficient evidence to make a decision one way or the other.  There is no question there is evidence on either side which points to either death by murder or by an accident possibly resulting from alleged negligence.  However, it is the jury’s call on this, provided there is enough evidence to get to the jury.  Since there was never any other previous motion brought in lower court to this effect, and the court sitting here also feels there is no evidence which puts into question the ability of the jury to make at least some decision, the verdict of the lower court stands.

Rule: Juries may pontificate with whatever evidence is presented at trial in order to make an educated verdict.  So long as there is sufficient evidence to begin with to go on to trial, the evidence stands on its face as that as what the jury has by which to deliberate upon.  The jury’s job is to surmise based on the facts presented, not to surmise on the validity of the facts.

Holding: Yes.  There was sufficient evidence of negligence on the part of the Frisco trustee and for the lower court to submit the case to the jury, and appellate courts should abide by such a decision.

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