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CENTRAL VERMONT RY. CO. V. WHITE, 238 U. S. 507 (1915)

U.S. Supreme Court

Central Vermont Ry. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507 (1915)

Central Vermont Railway Company v. White

No. 407

Argued April 23, 1915

Decided June 21, 1915

238 U.S. 507


The filing of a large number of assignments of error perverts the purpose of the rule requiring assignments, and the practice cannot be approved. Phillips v. Seymour, 91 U. S. 648.

On writ of error to review a judgment of the state court in an action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, this Court considers only assignments relating to matters of practice, pleading, and evidence involving the construction of the federal statute.

It was not error in the trial court to refuse to direct a verdict for defendant on the ground that the proof failed to show negligence in allowing a faster freight train to run into a slower train in front of it, the engineer of the former having received notice that the track was clear and that it might proceed. The evidence was sufficient to support a verdict.

The Federal Employers' Liability Act abolishes the fellow servant rule, and an employee does not assume risks arising from unknown defects in engines, machinery, or appliances.

While matters of procedure depend upon the law of the place where the suit is brought, matters of substance in regard to an action based on a federal statute depend upon the statute, and in an action under the Employers' Liability Act, the burden of proof as to whether the employee was guilty of contributory negligence is a matter of substance, and not of mere state procedure.

The federal courts have uniformly held that, as a matter of general law, the burden of proving contributory negligence is on the defendant, and have enforced the principle even in states which hold, as does Vermont, that the burden is on the plaintiff of proving that he was not guilty thereof.

In passing the Federal Employers' Liability Act, Congress intended that it should be construed in the light of the decisions of the federal courts made prior to the enactment in this respect.

In an action under the Employers' Liability Act, rulings of the state court in regard to the effect of amendments and replications are

Page 238 U. S. 508

matters of state pleading and practice, and the decision of the state court are binding on this Court.

Under Lord Campbell's Act, and in a few of the American states, the jury apportion damages in case of death by negligence of defendant, but the omission of this requirement in the Employers' Liability Act indicates the intention of Congress to follow the practice in most of the American not requiring such apportionment.

In case the plaintiff sues under the Employers' Liability Act for the benefit of parties not entitled to share in the recovery, and if the verdict is increased as the result of such inclusion, defendant may raise the question in a manner appropriate under the practice of the court in which the trial is had. North Carolina R. Co. v. Zachary, 232 U. S. 248.

Questions of general law in regard to admission of evidence in regard to delivery and content of written papers and as to inspection of engines which involve no construction of the Employers' Liability Act cannot, under § 237, Judicial Code, be renewed on writ of error to the state court.

87 Vt. 330 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the validity of a judgment for damages for personal injury in an action under the Employers' Liability Act, are stated in the opinion.

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