Denver & Rio Grande Railway v. Harris - 122 U.S. 597 (1887)


U.S. Supreme Court

Denver & Rio Grande Railway v. Harris, 122 U.S. 597 (1887)

Denver & Rio Grande Railway v. Harris

Argued May 5, 1887

Decided May 27, 1887

122 U.S. 597

Syllabus

If a claimant of real estate, out of possession, resorts to force and violence amounting to a breach of the peace to obtain possession from another claimant who is in peaceable possession, and personal injury arises thereupon to the latter, the party using such force and violence is liable in damages for the injury without regard to the legal title, or to the right of possession.

Iron Mountain & Helena Railroad v. Johnson, 119 U. S. 608, affirmed and applied.

A corporation is liable for civiliter torts committed by its servants and agents done by its authority, whether express or implied.

In trespass on the case to recover for injuries caused by gunshot wounds inflicted by defendant's servants, evidence of the loss of power to have offspring, resulting directly and proximately from the nature of the wound, may be received and considered by the jury, although the declaration does not specify such loss as one of the results of the wound.

In an action of trespass on the case against a corporation to recover damages for injuries inflicted by its servants in a forcible and violent seizure of a railroad, punitive damages within the sum claimed in the declaration may be awarded by the jury if it appears to their satisfaction that the defendant's officers and servants, in the illegal assault

Page 122 U. S. 598

complained of, employed the force with bad intent and in pursuance of an unlawful purpose, wantonly disturbing the peace of the community and endangering life.

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company was in peaceable possession of a railroad from Alamosa to Pueblo, and while so in possession, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company, by an armed force of several hundred men, acting as its agents and employer, and under its vice-President and assistant general manager, attacked with deadly weapons the agents and employer of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company having charge of the railroad, and forcibly drove them from the same and took forcible possession thereof. There was a demonstration of armed men all along the line of the railroad seized, and while this was being done and the seizure was being made, the plaintiff, an employee of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company, while on the track of the road in the line of his employment, was fired upon by men as he was passing and seriously wounded and injured. Immediately upon the seizure of the railroad as aforesaid, the Denver and Rio Grande Company accepted it and entered into possession and commenced and for a time continued to use and operate it as its own. The plaintiff brought this suit to recover damages for his injuries. Held that the Denver and Rio Grande Company was liable in tort for the acts of its agents, and that the plaintiff could recover damages for the injuries received, and punitive damages under the circumstances.

This action was brought by James Harris, the defendant in error, against the Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company, a corporation of the State of Colorado, to recover damages for injuries which, he alleges, were sustained by him in his person by reason of an illegal and wrongful assault made by that company, acting by its servants and agents. The plea was not guilty. There was a verdict and judgment in favor of the plaintiff for nine thousand dollars. The judgment was affirmed in the supreme court of the territory, and has been brought here for review.

The defendant introduced no evidence, although its officers were the chief actors on the occasion when the plaintiff was injured. The case made by the latter and other witnesses testifying in his behalf is stated by the supreme court of the territory in the following extract from its opinion:

"The record discloses the fact that there was evidence on the trial in the lower court to the effect that, about the tenth or twelfth of June, 1879, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe

Page 122 U. S. 599

Railway Company was in peaceable possession, by its agents and employees, of a certain railroad in the State of Colorado running from Alamosa to the City of Pueblo in that state; that at or about that date, and while the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company were so in possession of said railroad, the plaintiff in error, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company, by an armed force of several hundred men, acting as its agents and employees, and under its vice-president and assistant general manager, attacked with deadly weapons the agents and employees of said Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company having charge of said railroad, and forcibly drove them from the same and took forcible possession thereof; that there was a demonstration of armed men all along the line of the railroad seized, and while this was being done and the seizure was being made, the defendant in error, who was an employee of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company on said line of railroad, and while on the track of the road and on a hand car thereon in the line of his employment, was fired upon by men as he was passing, and seriously wounded and injured; that immediately upon the seizure of the railroad as aforesaid, the plaintiff in error accepted it and at once entered into possession thereof and commenced and for a time continued to use and operate the same as its own. "

Page 122 U. S. 605



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