398 U.S. 906 (1970)

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U.S. Supreme Court


398 U.S. 906

Donald L. WARNER, etc., et al., petitioners,
No. 601.

Supreme Court of the United States

May 18, 1970

Petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.


Mr. Justice BLACK, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS joins, dissenting.

This personal injury suit arose out of a farming accident. Petitioner Donald Warner, a 12-year-old boy, was working with other young men on a farm gathering hay. They were using a machine manufactured by the respondent corporation which carried bales of hay up from a wagon into the hayloft at the top of a barn. This machine consisted of a belt with step- like paddles on which the bales were placed. The power for the elevator was supplied by a tractor, and the operating controls were located on the tractor. Donald was at first working at the bottom of the elevator, but when it became necessary for him to change places with another boy at the top of the elevator the power was shut off and Donald proceeded to climb up the elevator, using the paddles as a ladder. As Donald neared the top, but before he had stepped off the machine, another boy, who could not see the top of the elevator, started it up again. Donald had unfortunately caught his foot in the mechanism and when the power was applied his leg was mangled. As a result he lost the lower part of his leg by amputation. Donald and his father brought suit, claiming that the respondent had breached its duty to warn of the potential dangers involved in using the machine as a substitute ladder and the duty to design a safe machine. At trial the Warners introduced testimonial evidence that other hay elevators were designed so that the operator could see the top, and that warnings of possible danger were given with other farm machinery. At the close of this evidence respondent moved for a directed verdict, the motion was denied, and evidence

Page 398 U.S. 906 , 907

for the defense was submitted. At the conclusion of all the evidence the jury retired, deliberated fully, and returned with a verdict for $75,000 in favor of the Warners.

On appeal the Court of Appeals proceeded to consider the sufficiency of the evidence, even though it also held that since the defendant had not renewed its motion for a directed verdict at the close of the evidence the court could not consider sufficiency of the evidence on appeal. [Footnote 1] The court then concluded that petitioner had failed to produce sufficient evidence to warrant submitting the case to the jury and therefore set the jury's verdict aside.

In my opinion this action was a flagrant disregard of the command of the Seventh Amendment that '[i]n Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.' This provision, as I understand it, means that questions of the sufficiency of the evidence are for the jury-not the [398 U.S. 906 , 908]

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