The Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company appeals from a judgment rendered in favor of Aubrey LeBlanc Simon, individually, for the sum of $45,000 and for the use and benefit of the minors, Jerry Lawrence Simon and John Alton Simon, $16,500 and $13,000 respectively.
The facts reveal that one Alton Simon was returning home from work at the Jet Base being constructed near New Iberia, Louisiana on June 26, 1958. On his way home it was necessary that he traverse a railroad crossing in Iberia Parish, Louisiana and while crossing said railroad the "Sunset Limited" belonging to the defendant, crashed into the vehicle of Alton Simon, and, as a result thereof, he met his death. Plaintiff is the wife of Alton Simon, who brought the suit individually and on behalf of her two minor children, children of the decedent. Trial was had by Jury and after the Trial Judge's denial of defendant's motion for a new trial, defendant perfected this appeal to this Court.
The record reveals that the accident occurred at the railroad crossing on a gravel road known as the Old Segura Road Crossing. Defendant's tracks are located just South of U. S. Highway 90 and run parallel thereto. The rail-crossing on the old Segura Road, where the accident in question occurred, is located approximately thirty-eight feet South of the paved portion of U. S. Highway 90. The railroad at this crossing runs in an approximate East and West direction and plaintiff's husband was proceeding alone in his 1952 Dodge sedan automobile in a northerly direction when the accident occurred. Engineering data introduced by the defendant at the trial of the case revealed that the Old Segura Road was considerably lower than the railroad itself and at a point twenty-five feet South of the railroad crossing, the elevation of the Old Segura Road was three tenths of a foot lower than the top of the rail. At a point fifty feet South of the crossing, the elevation of the Old Segura Road was one and two tenths feet lower than the top of the rail and at a point one hundred feet South of the crossing the elevation of the Old Segura Road was two and seven tenths feet lower than the elevation of the top of the rail. At a point one hundred and fifty feet South of the crossing the elevation of the Old Segura Road was three and nine tenths feet lower than the top of the rail.
It is contended by plaintiff that the defendant railroad company was negligent in keeping its right of way in an unsafe condition, in running its train at an excessive rate of speed and in failing to maintain a proper lookout and proper control over its train, and in failing to sound a warning whistle or bell. Plaintiffs further contend that the decedent was guilty of no contributory negligence and argue in the alternative that if the decedent was guilty of contributory negligence the railroad company is liable under the doctrine of last clear chance. The defendant contends that it was guilty of no negligence whatsoever and in the alternative should the Court find it guilty of any negligence, the decedent was guilty of contributory negligence which was a proximate cause of the accident. It further contends that the doctrine of last clear chance does not apply in this particular case.
Of the many acts of negligence alleged by plaintiff, we believe the two more serious acts of negligence alleged by plaintiff on the part of the defendant was that the defendant did not provide a safe crossing in that the defendant failed to maintain their right of way and allowed weeds and other growth which obstructed one's view traveling on the Old Segura Road in a northerly direction of any trains that might be approaching from his left or West, coupled with the other act of negligence that the defendant train did not sound the warning until a moment before the accident occurred or simultaneously with the accident.
Most of the witnesses testified that it was impossible to see down the tracks until the front wheels of the car were almost on the rails.
Mr. J. R. Falgout, who is a State Trooper, and who investigated the accident testified that the weeds were approximately six feet high and on cross examination testified that the weeds were six feet high from ground level elevation.
Mr. George Sittig, the driver of the automobile which was following the decedent's automobile at the time of the accident testified:
Shirley Harmon, who traversed the crossing frequently, testified:
Mr. Douglas H. Cole, who testified on behalf of plaintiff, testified that on the date in question he did not hear a whistle from the train and in his estimation the train was traveling seventy-five miles per hour. He further testified that the weeds were "awful high" and "you had to come up to the track, you had to ease up there to look both ways."
Mr. Ronald E. Owens, who testified on behalf of the plaintiff, testified that he was driving his vehicle on U. S. 90 and that he was approximately two hundred fifty feet from the intersection of the Old Segura Road with U. S. 90. He testified that the train in his judgment must have been traveling about eighty-five or ninety miles per hour and that he heard the whistle blow about a half second before the crash. He testified that the whistle blowing and the crash were almost simultaneous. He further testified that there were weeds and grass growing along the track "right up to the track" and "right up to the railroad".
Mr. Edward O. Bauer, a traffic supervisor of the City of Baton Rouge, testified on behalf of plaintiff as an expert. His testimony was to the effect that on the date of the trial one proceeding in a car from the South going North would have to be approximately twenty-five to twenty-eight feet from the crossing in order to have an unobstructed view of the railroad track to the West. It was his opinion as of the date of the trial that the crossing was a hazardous crossing. He testified, assuming that there were weeds six to eight feet in height in the area of the date of the accident, as testified by plaintiff's witnesses, a party traveling in his vehicle toward the North "would have to be mighty close" to get a view of any train proceeding East.
There were many photographs introduced in the record on the trial of the case, both by plaintiff and defendant. All of the photographs deal with the site of the accident and the weeds and grass around the site of the accident. The record also reveals that the weeds were cut five days after the accident by employees of the defendant. Mr. H. L. Chambers, Claim Agent for the defendant, on the date of the accident took several pictures, approximately one hour after the accident occurred. Mr. Chambers testified concerning the pictures primarily as follows, to-wit:
With reference to the warning signal given by the train as it approached the accident crossing, the engineer and fireman of the railroad company testified that they sounded the whistle of the train and the bell on the train for a considerable distance, approximately a quarter of a mile before reaching the crossing and continuously sounded the whistle and bell until the train came to a rest after the accident.
On the other hand, George Sittig, Shirley Harmon and Lewis Bernard, the three people who occupied the car immediately behind the Alton Simon car, each testified in substance that they did not hear the whistle blow or bell ring until just before the collision.
Ronald Owens, who was approximately 250 feet from the accident testified that the whistle blew approximately one-half second before he heard the crash.
The Jury in arriving at its conclusion obviously determined that Simon, traveling the Old Segura Road in a northerly direction, had an obstructed view to his left which prevented him from seeing any train traveling in an easterly direction until he was very close to the railroad crossing. It must have also determined that the railroad company's train did not give a warning until it was very close to the crossing in order to find for plaintiffs after having been given the law by the Trial Judge. In arriving at the facts governing the case, the evaluation of the witnesses' testimony is of paramount importance. The Jury, in determining the facts of a case have the opportunity to see and hear the witnesses. The jurors also have the important task of evaluating the testimony as given by the witnesses. The Jury obviously believed the plaintiff's witnesses and the Trial Judge in his statement in his reasons overruling a motion for a new trial stated that he did not believe that the Jury had made any manifest error and that they were unanimous in their decision and conclusion. It has been repeatedly held that the Court will not set aside a verdict of the Jury in a case where the testimony is conflicting and where the testimony of the witnesses is sufficient to sustain such a verdict if accepted as credible. See Roux v. Attardo, La.App.1957, 93 So.2d 332; Cush v. Griffin, La.App.1957, 95 So.2d 860; Mire v. St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Company, La. App.1958, 103 So.2d 553; Hardie v. Allen, La.App.1951, 50 So.2d 74.
The Jury's function is to find facts relating to negligence, contributory negligence, last clear chance and damages. In the case of Ross v. Sibley, 116 La. 789, 41 So. 93, 95, the Supreme Court stated:
See also Henwood v. Wallace, 5 Cir., 159 F.2d 263, Foreman v. Texas & N. O. R. Company, D.C.La.1951, 97 F.Supp. 378; Missouri-Pacific Railroad Company v. Soileau, 5 Cir., 1959, 265 F.2d 90.
That the Jury's findings on contributory negligence should be undisturbed unless they have no basis in evidence has been recognized in Aaron v. Martin, La.App. 1936, 167 So. 106; Illinois Central Railway Company v. Aucoin, 5 Cir., 1952, 195 F.2d 983.
Defendant contends that if in fact the view of Simon was obstructed then the
In the case of Pokora v. Wabash Ry. Co., 292 U.S. 98, 100-101, 54 S.Ct. 580, 581, 78 L.Ed. 1149, 1151, Justice Cardozo expressed the finding of negligence in this manner:
We believe that the Jury, having had the opportunity to see and listen to the witnesses could reasonably find that the plaintiffs furnished ample proof that the defendant was derelict in its duty. Having found so, the defendant has the burden of proving contributory negligence by a preponderance of the evidence showing that the decedent failed to act as a reasonable and prudent man and that his negligent conduct was a contributing cause of the accident. The presumption of law is that the decedent acted in response to the natural instincts of self-preservation and did not seek to commit suicide by exposing himself to unnecessary risks of death. Boykin v. Plauche, La.App.1936, 168 So. 741; Kern v. Knight, 1930, 13 La.App. 194, 127 So. 133; Aymond v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 151 La. 184, 91 So. 671, 672. The evidence
In the case of Dobrowolski v. Holloway Gravel Company, La.App., 173 So. 474, 476, the Court stated:
The Jury concluded that the decedent, Simon, was not guilty of contributory negligence which was a proximate cause of the accident and we can find no manifest error in said conclusion.
Having concluded that the Jury had ample evidence upon which to find the defendant guilty of negligence which was the proximate cause of the accident and sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiff's deceased husband was guilty of no contributory negligence which was a proximate cause of the accident, there is no need for this Court to consider the other allegations of negligence as alleged by plaintiff.
The Jury awarded Mrs. Simon individually the sum of $45,000; and as natural tutrix of her minor children, Jerry Lawrence and John Alton Simon, for their use and benefit, $16,500 and $13,000, respectively. The copies of income tax returns of the decedent, Mr. Simon, were filed in evidence and revealed that he made approximately $4,700 per year, which fact was also testified to by Mrs. Simon. The evidence reveals that Mr. and Mrs. Simon were married in 1941 and had two sons, one born in 1942 and the other in 1944. There is no evidence to the contrary that Mr. and Mrs. Simon experienced almost 20 happy years together and were a most congenial couple. Considering the special damages of funeral expenses and property
In the case at bar, since deceased was 38 years old, then according to the American Experience Mortality Table, LSA-R.S. 47:2405, deceased had a life expectancy of approximately 29.62 years. Based on his approximate annual income of $4,700 multiplied by his life expectancy of 29 years decedent would have earned $136,300 during his lifetime. Mrs. Simon would be entitled to one-half or $68,150. Employing the annual figure of $2,350 (one-half decedent's annual wage of $4,700) and using 15.14107357 as the present value of one, taken at 5% discount for 29 years the loss of earnings and support to Mrs. Simon is determined to be $34,800.18 or approximately $35,000 for loss of support. Using the above figures she received less than $10,000 ($45,000 total award less $35,000 loss of support less medical and funeral expenses) for loss of love, affection and companionship.
In arriving at the value of the loss of support award to be made to the minors under the facts shown by this record we are inclined to employ, for purposes of comparison and analysis, the formula of the Day case, cited supra, as modified by the McFarland case, supra, wherein such loss was predicated upon the Federal Income Tax deduction of $600 per child per year discounted at 5%.
Thus Jerry Lawrence Simon, 16 years of age, was entitled to five years support at $600 per year or $3,000. Using the annual figure of $600 and 4.32947667 as the present value of one to be taken at a discount of 5% for five years the value of his claim for loss of support would be $2,597.89 or roughly $2,600. John Alton, 14 years of age, would be entitled to seven years of support at $600 per year or $4,200. Using the annual figure of $600 and 5.78637339 as the present value of one to be taken at a discount of 5% for seven years the value of his claim for loss of support would be $3,471.82 or roughly $3,500.
In view of the fact that Jerry Lawrence was 16 and that John Alton was 14 at the time, it is obvious that the jury apparently confused the two when it awarded Jerry $16,500 and John $13,000. Therefore, we will change the amounts for their use and benefit to read $13,000 for Jerry and $16,500 for John.
In view of the above change it is evident that Jerry was awarded $10,400 ($13,000 gross less $2,600 loss of support) for loss of love, affection and companionship and that John was awarded $13,000 ($16,500 gross less $3,500 loss of support) for loss of love, affection and companionship.
Although the jury awards did not give a break-down of each award we feel that the application of the Day-McFarland method approximates that rule which in all likelihood is the least arbitrary of any yet devised. However, as was stated in the Day case * * * "while we do not necessarily accept this method as being applicable to or controlling in all instances, we believe the amounts thus determined are reasonable in the light of the circumstances of this particular case * * *" [117 So.2d 127] (Emphasis added).
In the matter of awards for loss of love, affection and companionship we are faced
The question of whether or not remarriage would affect the award is not before us and we are not concerned therewith.
In the case of Brown v. S. A. Bourg & Sons, Inc., 239 La. 473, 118 So.2d 891, 895 Justice Viosca discussed certain considerations that must be taken into account in determining damages such as: determining loss of support by multiplying the annual contribution by life expectancy with an allowance for discount on advanced payments; life expectancy of the survivor; divorce rate; percentage of re-marriage of widows and earning capacity of second husbands; condition and health of decedent and his possible retirement; wage fluctuations; and devaluation of the dollar. He went on to say that: "The monetary damages resulting from loss of support Cannot Be Calculated with Mathematical Exactitude. They are Speculative in Nature and as in the case of damages for loss of love and companionship, mental anguish and other damages of that character, much discretion must be left to the judge or jury." (Emphasis ours.) In the case of Duree v. State, La.App., 96 So.2d 854, 863, in discussing damages the following language was employed: "The award of damages for personal injury or death is of necessity somewhat arbitrary; loss of love, companionship, support (both spiritual and financial), understanding, and guidance of a good father and husband has no monetary equivalent. While the damages should be compensatory of the loss sustained, Article 2315, LSA-C.C., in cases such as the present, where the damage is certain but of uncertain pecuniary value, much discretion must be left to the trier of fact, Article 1934, subd. 3, LSA-Civil Code, * * *. Although awards so made may vary greatly with the facts of each case, likewise they should be made with some degree of uniformity with those made for similar losses * * *."
Under the circumstances of this case we find that the awards made by the jury (as corrected herein) are neither excessive nor inadequate, but rather are commensurate with the loss sustained.
From the foregoing it follows that the judgment of the lower court should be and is hereby amended by changing the award for the use and benefit of Jerry Lawrence Simon from $16,500 to $13,000 and that for the use and benefit of John Alton Simon from $13,000 to $16,500.
Accordingly and for the foregoing reasons the judgment as amended is affirmed. Costs of this appeal to be paid by appellant.