In this suit by a seaman under the Jones Act and the general
maritime law to recover from a shipowner damages for a serious
tubercular illness alleged to have been caused by an accident at
sea for which the shipowner was liable, no medical witness
testified that the accident, in fact, caused the illness.
nevertheless, the evidence was sufficient to
support the jury's conclusion that the illness was caused by the
accident, and the Court of Appeals erred in reversing a judgment
for the seaman. Pp. 361 U. S.
(a) The lack of medical unanimity as to the respective
likelihood of the potential causes of the illness, and the fact
that the other potential causes were not conclusively negated by
the proofs, did not bar the jury from drawing the inference which
it did. P. 361 U. S.
(b) The use of a particular form of words by the medical
witnesses is not determinative, and the jury was entitled to take
all the circumstances, including the medical testimony, into
consideration. Pp. 361 U. S.
256 F.2d 156 reversed.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner brought this suit against the respondent to
recover damages sustained by him allegedly as a consequence of a
shipboard accident while serving as a crew member on the
respondent's vessel in the Caribbean. As the vessel encountered a
heavy sea, petitioner was pitched
Page 361 U. S. 108
into the air and fell back to the deck, where, upon landing, a
wave washed him a considerable distance. Shortly after the
accident, the petitioner became quite ill and was hospitalized and
treated for a serious case of tuberculosis. The respondent's
liability for the accident was predicated on fault under the Jones
Act, 41 Stat. 1007, 46 U.S.C. § 688, and alternatively on breach of
the maritime duty to furnish a seaworthy vessel. The petitioner's
theory was that the accident activated or aggravated a previously
latent tubercular condition. [Footnote 1
] The case was submitted to a jury in the
District Court, where a verdict was returned for the petitioner,
and judgment entered thereon. In the Court of Appeals, the
respondent did not argue that the jury could not have with reason
found it liable for the accident, but contended solely that the
evidence did not justify the jury's conclusion that the accident
caused the serious illness that followed it. The Court of Appeals
agreed with the respondent's contention and reversed, 256 F.2d 156.
We granted certiorari on a petition in which it was asserted that
the Court of Appeals had applied an improper standard in reviewing
the medical evidence and in examining the judgment rendered on the
jury's verdict. 359 U.S. 923.
There was evidence that petitioner (whose medical history was an
active one) had been examined several times by his regular
physician in the year preceding the accident, as recently as two
months before it, with no appearance of tuberculosis being then
noted. During the petitioner's acute tuberculosis subsequent to the
accident, a specialist reexamined X-ray pictures taken in the years
preceding the accident, and concluded that
Page 361 U. S. 109
they did, in fact, reveal a pulmonary lesion, at first involving
a "small scarred inactive area." "In retrospect," the specialist
felt that the lesion had beer tubercular. In response to a
hypothetical question as to the effect of an accident like
petitioner's on the aggravation or activation of a preexisting,
dormant tubercular condition, the specialist gave an opinion that
"acute dissemination of the tuberculosis" might be a consequence of
the accident. Another specialist, who had treated petitioner during
his hospitalization after the accident, posited the trauma and
petitioner's preexisting diabetic condition as the most likely
causes of the aggravation of the tuberculosis, though he was not
able to state "which of the two it is more likely was responsible
in this instance." Another medical expert, who had not personally
examined petitioner, when questioned hypothetically, was of opinion
that the accident "probably aggravated his condition," though he
would not say definitely: "We don't ever select one item and say
that is the cause of any particular aggravation."
The jury's power to draw the inference that the aggravation of
petitioner's tubercular condition, evident so shortly after the
accident, was, in fact, caused by that accident was not impaired by
the failure of any medical witness to testify that it was, in fact,
the cause. Neither can it be impaired by the lack of medical
unanimity as to the respective likelihood of the potential causes
of the aggravation, or by the fact that other potential causes of
the aggravation existed and were not conclusively negated by the
proofs. The matter does not turn on the use of a particular form of
words by the physicians in giving their testimony. The members of
the jury, not the medical witnesses, were sworn to make a legal
determination of the question of causation. [Footnote 2
] They were entitled
Page 361 U. S. 110
to take all the circumstances, including the medical testimony,
into consideration. See Sullivan v. Boston Elevated R.
185 Mass. 602, 71 N.E. 90; Miami Coal Co. v.
76 Ind.App. 245, 131 N.E. 824. [Footnote 3
] Though this case involves a medical issue,
it is no exception to the admonition that
"It is not the function of a court to search the record for
conflicting circumstantial evidence in order to take the case away
from the jury on a theory that the proof gives equal support to
inconsistent and uncertain inferences. The focal point of judicial
review is the reasonableness of the particular inference or
conclusion drawn by the jury. . . . The very essence of its
function is to select from among conflicting inferences and
conclusions that which it considers most reasonable. . . . Courts
are not free to reweigh the evidence and set aside the jury verdict
merely because the jury could have drawn different inferences or
conclusions or because judges feel that other results are more
Tennant v. Peoria & Pekin Union R. Co.,
321 U. S. 29
321 U. S. 35
The proofs here justified with reason the conclusion of the jury
that the accident caused the petitioner's serious subsequent
illness. See Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co.,
352 U. S. 500
MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER, finding in the record direct medical
testimony expressing the opinion that petitioner's latent
tubercular condition actually was activated by the trauma
complained of, concurs.
Page 361 U. S. 111
Maintenance and cure in respect of the illness were also
claimed; this was viewed as presenting a causation problem similar
to that posed by the claim for indemnity damages.
For a discussion of the reluctance of medical opinion to assign
trauma as the cause of disease, and of the varying medical and
legal concepts of causation, see
Small, Gaffing at a Thing
Called Cause: Medico-Legal Conflicts in the Concept of Causation,
31 Tex.L.Rev. 630.
The medical testimony in the case last cited moved the court to
"Indeed, if it were not for the saving grace of what we call
common sense, justice would be defeated in almost every case where
opinion evidence is admitted."
at 249, 131 N.E. at 826.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring.
Cases like this, I am firmly convinced, do not belong in this
Court. To review individualized personal injury cases, in which the
sole issue is sufficiency of the evidence, seems to me not only to
disregard the Court's proper function, but also to deflect the
Court's energies from the mass of important and difficult business
properly here. All this has been elaborated in extenso
others, and there is no point in repeating or paraphrasing their
words. Suffice it to note that I agree with what they have said.
See, e.g., Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 352 U.
, 352 U. S. 524
(dissenting opinion); Dick v. New York Life Ins. Co.,
359 U. S. 437
359 U. S. 447
Yet, under our rule, when four members of the Court vote to
grant a petition for certiorari, the case is taken. If this rule is
not to be frustrated, I can, as presently advised, see no escape
from the duty of considering a case brought here on the merits,
unless considerations appear which were not apprehended at the time
certiorari was granted. In short, on this score, I agree with the
views expressed by MR. JUSTICE HARLAN in Rogers v. Missouri
Pacific R. Co., 352 U. S. 500
352 U. S. 559
(dissenting opinion). See
Mr. Chief Justice Stone's
concurring opinion in Bailey v. Central Vermont R. Co.,
319 U. S. 350
319 U. S.
Upon an independent review of the record in this case, I concur
in the result.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concurs in this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, dissenting.
"We do not grant a certiorari to review evidence and discuss
specific facts." United States v. Johnston, 268 U.
, 268 U. S. 227
Thus, Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court
thirty-five years ago, summarized the
Page 361 U. S. 112
practice of the Court in abstaining from exercising its
certiorari jurisdiction for the purpose of reviewing facts and
weighing evidence in relation to hem. This practice obviously
derived from the Evarts Act of 1891, by which Congress established
intermediate courts of appeals to free this Court from reviewing
the great mass of federal litigation in order to enable the
Nation's ultimate tribunal adequately to discharge its
responsibility for the wise adjudication of cases "involving
principles the settlement of which is of importance to the public
as distinguished from that of the parties," Layne & Bowler
Corp. v. Western Well Works, Inc., 261 U.
, 261 U. S. 393
Since Mr. Chief Justice Taft announced this for the Court in 1923,
cases of obvious public importance demanding the Court's attention
have increased in number and difficulty. The practice of not taking
cases turning solely on the evaluation of evidence has been
consistently adhered to, barring an occasional sport like Dick
v. New York Life Insurance Co., 359 U.
, except in the special class of cases arising
under the Federal Employers' Liability Act and its twin, the Jones
Act. The fluctuating interest in this special class of cases by the
necessary number of Justices for granting certiorari, first on
behalf of employers, see
Frankfurter and Landis, The
Business of the Supreme Court (1928), 207-209, and more recently on
behalf of employees, has disregarded the normal practice.
The oral argument overwhelmingly confirmed what the petition had
already made clear, that this is the kind of case which, in the
language of my Brother STEWART, does not "belong in this Court." To
entertain the case merely because argument has been had does not
lessen the disregard of the Court's practice, formulated in Rule
19. The Court has in scores of cases dismissed the writ of
certiorari even after oral argument, when the true basis for a
certiorari was lacking. Even in criminal cases
Page 361 U. S. 113
involving sentences of life imprisonment, this practice has been
followed. See Triplett v. Iowa, 357 U.
; Joseph v. Indiana, 359 U.
. Again to quote Mr. Chief Justice Taft in
Layne & Bowler Corp. v. Western Well Works, Inc.,
at 261 U. S. 393
is very important that we be consistent in not granting the writ of
certiorari. . . ." As a general practice, the Court does not review
cases involving merely individualized circumstances not unlike the
type of factual situations arising in the application of the
Federal Employers' Liability Act and the Jones Act. Since this case
does not "belong in this Court," to have brought it here was an
undue exercise of judicial discretion. Accordingly, I would dismiss
the writ as improvidently granted. See
my opinion in
Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 352 U.
, 352 U. S.