Case Analysis: Clark v. Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company

  1. Undisputed Facts

There was a train wreck on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad on the wake of 10th May 1897, in the vicinity of Marthasville, Missouri. The train in the incident transported live steers. Upon the happening of the wreck, a conductor of the train passed the information of the occurrence to a foreman of the railroad track. The above conductor informed the foreman of the presence of loose steers in the tracks vicinity that required recovery. The section of the railroad track, where the wreckage incident happened, was under the service of four men. They included Otto Housman, the defendant in the case, together with three other men – George and Jim Housman, sons of the foreman, as well as Pleasant W. Clark, the plaintiff in the case. Mr. Clark had worked for the railroad over the past four years serving as a section hand. As a section hand, part of his responsibilities included taking care of live animals transported by the railroad as well as cleaning up any time there was a mess that required cleaning up the railroad tracks.

On the fateful night of the train wreck, Mr. Clark was summoned to come and help in the recovery activities of retrieving the steers that were on the loose. Together with his two colleagues, they recovered all the steers but for one Texas steer. Upon further orders, however, Mr. Clark and his two colleagues returned resumed their search and recovery activities for the last steer. Luckily, they found it approximately two hundred yards away from the railroad track. However, Mr. Clark took notice of the steer acting relatively wild. One of his colleagues, Jim Housman, noticed the steer moving towards them and warned his colleagues loudly and immediately jumped off the track. The other colleague, George Housman jumped off the railroad track, in the same way, his brother did, leaving Mr. Clark all by himself to handle the steer. When Mr. Clark saw the steer at about twenty-five to thirty feet from him and still approaching, he hit it with a club he was carried along with him making the animal turn away. He immediately jumped off the track as well. Upon jumping from the track, he landed on a muddy embankment and, unfortunately, got an injury on his knee.

  1. Plaintiff’s Case

According to Mr. Clark, the railroad track company represented by the foreman Mr. Housman owed him a substantial care of duty. Thus, the plaintiff views the injury sustained on his knee upon landing on the embankment as a negligent failure of observing the duty of care owed to him by the railroad. A key test with respect to ascertaining the duty of care for the successful accusation of negligence focuses on the extent of control by the defendant as well as the extent of vulnerability on the plaintiff. From the Chapman v Hearse; Swain v Waverley Municipal Council, the party in control ought to ensure that it undertakes all actions possible for the purpose of safekeeping safety of the vulnerable party.

In light of the above, Mr. Clark finds a breach of the duty of care by the railroad. In the determination of the breach of the duty of care, the legal provisions highlight the necessity of the harm by the plaintiff to be foreseeable. Other than the aspect of foreseeability, the resulting harm to the plaintiff must be significant to warrant a negligence-based accusation on the defendant. Furthermore, the legal provisions require that any party accused of breaching the duty of care be in such a position arguable that a reasonable person would issue precautionary measures for avoiding the injury.

Therefore, Mr. Clark is right to accuse the railroad company of negligence. For one, it is arguable that his knee injury is a direct result of the absence of the duty of care by the railroad. Additionally, Mr. Clark took a lot of burden in the pursuit of avoiding the injury once he encountered the risk of the steer. The court must, however, consider how the activity by Mr. Clark encounters the risk as well as the seriousness of the injury Paris v Stepney Borough Council. However, there is an aspect of contributory negligence. Mr. Clark was accompanied by two of his colleagues who upon seeing the wild nature of the steer decided to jump off the track in good time. Perhaps if Mr. Clark had followed suit, he would have had ample time to determine his jumping decision thus reducing or avoiding the knee injury. Mr. Clark thus should rest assured that in case the court rules in his favor, the defendant will not absorb the entire damage – a commensurate portion must be liable to him Ingram v McCuiston.

  1. Defendant’s Case

Mr. Otto Housman, acting as the defendant representing the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company had a legally considerable perspective of the case too. The argument of Mr. Houston is a more of a counter of the facts asserted by the Mr. Clark, the plaintiff. In his argument, Mr. Clark clearly underlines the fact that the railroad company owed him the duty of care. More so, by failing to provide any warning in the case of the incident, Mr. Clark also substantially highlighted the fact that the railroad company breached the duty of care due to him. However, for a successful accusation of negligence based on the breach of the duty of care, the legal provisions call for the ascertainment that the injury on the plaintiff is directly a result of the breach of duty of care owed to the plaintiff by the defendant Specifically, there must be an ascertainment by the court clearly indicating that the injury or harm upon which the plaintiff claims for damage was beyond reasonable doubt foreseeable and clear to the defendant. More so, the court or law must indisputably ascertain that it is as a result of the breach of the duty of care by the defendant that the harm or injury to the plaintiff happened Barnett v Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee.

On the day of the accident that led to the injury, Mr. Housman sent three of his junior workers to recover the last steer, that is, Mr. Clark and his two sons, George, and Jim Housman. Upon observing the wild nature of the approaching steer, George Housman loudly called out for his colleagues to escape from the impending danger. However, only his brother adhered to his warning. In his opinion, a reasonable person in the place of Mr. Clark would have followed in the steps of George and Jim Housman and jumped off the railroad when there was still time. In his denial of the knee injury on Mr. Clark resulting from the breach of the duty of care, there is the fact that by the time the plaintiff was jumping off the track resulting in his injury upon landing on the muddy embankment, the impending danger from the wild steer was no more. He had already hit it with the club he was carrying turning it away.

  1. Procedural History

The above was an appeal case. Initially, the plaintiff sued the defendant for damages for harm and injuries sustained in the course of carrying out work duties. The above case was first heard in the circuit court where the jury made a ruling in favor of the plaintiff. As a result, the plaintiff successfully recovered two thousand and five hundred dollars as compensation for personal injuries sustained on his knee. The defendant found the above ruling unfair and made an appeal to Missouri’s St. Louis Court of Appeals. Unfortunately for the defendant, the above Appeal Court affirmed the judgment by the circuit court. However, one of the hearing judges in the St. Louis Court of Appeals found the affirmation to be in conflict with a couple of decisions prior made by the same court.

According to the provisions of Article 6 in Section 6 of the 1884 Constitution Amendment, a Supreme Court has the obligation to rehear as well as re-determine a hearing where one of the judges in the Appeal Courts fails to concur with the rest. However, the Supreme Court can only do so if the upon the initiation of a constitutional appellate process. The above process involves the initiation of the process by the defendant if he also feels that the Appeal Courts ruling is still not in order. It is upon the above provision that the defendant filed a rehearing and redetermination case at the Supreme Court of Missouri (Division One) since it is only through such that the court’s jurisdiction is justified.

  1. Analysis of the Court’s Opinion

Notably, the Supreme Court of Missouri establishes significant credibility in reversing the initial ruling by the circuit court. Ideally, the ruling by the Supreme Court finds the basis for the comparison to various other rulings. In the pursuit of not making a disputable ruling as was the case in the St. Louis Court of Appeal, the jury in the Supreme Court of Missouri quoted heavily from all the relevant case similar and possible to refer in the above case. In the cause of analyzing the case with respect listening to both the defendant and the plaintiff, the Supreme Court of Missouri had a couple of key aspects to consider.

One of them is the abandoned answer by the defendant. From Mr. Clark’s point of view, Mr. Housman was bound by the admissions of his abandoned answer. Thus, Mr. Clark was throughout the case of the opinion that he could apply the concept of abandoned answer into binding Mr. Housman without affecting or binding himself in the process. However, the jury in the Supreme Court of Missouri nullified the above assumption. The rationale for the jury’s failure to consider the application of the abandoned answer in favor of the plaintiff finds its logic upon the fact that agreeing to such terms would also give room to the defendant using such techniques to make petitions in his favor as well.

In the final ruling of the above case, the jury in the Supreme Court of Missouri ignored the railroad’s statement about the knowledge of the behavior of the steer. If the steer were naturally domestic, there would not have been a case of negligence since its action of wild nature would not have been foreseeable by the defendant. On the other hand, if the steer was naturally wild, there would have been no case of negligence too since the plaintiff would have in the position of a reasonable person foreseen the impending risk of handling it. As a result, the court was reasonably right in disregarding any argument based on the nature of the steer since the result would have been the same whether the steer was domestic or of a wild nature.

With respect to the knowledge of the behavior of the steer, the Supreme Court of Missouri made its ruling based on the provisions that it was a known fact that the Texan steers were of wild nature. Citing from the Parrot v. Wells, the jury made the ruling based on the assumption that everything presumed general knowledge passes as general knowledge to everyone. However, in the ruling the court failed to justify the above presumption with several other cases, thus making it a decision prone to conflict and criticism. The seriousness of the above judgment features since being the Supreme Court, the above decision, was final and impossible to appeal for a new trial.

  1. Comparison to Modern Law

About five years after the ruling of the above case, the U.S. federal government enacted the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) in 1908. The intention of the enactment of FELA was majorly in the protection as well as the compensation employees of the railroad injured in their course of duty. The provisions of the FELA find their basis in the power of the federal government over the interstate commerce, stipulated in the constitutional clause addressing commerce. According to the provisions of the FELA, the fact that Mr. Clark was injured in the course of duty provided a reason strong enough to warrant the compensation for his injuries since its provisions are more like compensation insurance for railroad workers. Other than physical injuries, FELA also includes provision for compensation for emotional stress damages as well as cumulative trauma. Thus, in the case of Mr. Clark, the Supreme Court may fail to rule for the recovery of physical damage, but grant him recovery of damages related to the other aspects included under the provisions of FELA.

However, the modern law and the former law still have a strong similarity in some aspects. Ideally, Section 51 of the FELA requires the compensation of all railroad workers injured on the job, much like the case of Mr. Clark. However, just like the case was at the time of the ruling of the above case, the above section of the FELA requires the worker to prove that the injury he or she seeks compensation for results directly from the negligent nature of the railroad company or any of its holdings in the scene, wholly or in part. The above is much like it was before the new law.

Work Cited

Clark v. Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company, Mo. LEXIS 394 (Supreme Court of Missouri 1903)







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