Monday, November 11, 2013

Zibbell v. Southern Pacific Co. case brief

Zibbell v. Southern Pacific Co. case brief summary
116 P. 513, 520 (Cal. 1911)

Defendants, a railroad, a foreman, an engineer, and a brakeman, appealed the decision of the Superior Court of Fresno County (California), which found in favor of plaintiff pedestrian in the pedestrian's action to recover damages for personal injuries following an accident on the railroad line.


A train operated by the railroad and several of the railroad's employees struck the pedestrian. The primary issue was that of the pedestrian's contributory negligence. The jury exonerated the pedestrian of contributory negligence, and the court agreed with its finding. The train was operating silently, and the conditions under which the pedestrian was struck were extremely dark. The railroad's employees issued no warning bell, whistle, light, or call. Several witnesses corroborated the pedestrian's account of the accident. 


  • The brakeman could not be held responsible because he had no control over the train, nor did respondeat superior apply to him. 
  • Evidence of the pedestrian's earning capacity, past and future, was properly admitted as an aid to the jury in assessing damages. 
  • A single juror's admission that he had been to the site of the accident did not warrant reversal because there was no prejudice, and the railroad and its employees did not object at trial. 
  • Finally, the amount of damages awarded, twice the amount of the largest judgment ever rendered in California as of that time, was not excessive given the extreme severity of the pedestrian's injuries.

The court reversed the judgment as to the brakeman and affirmed the judgment in all other respects.

Suggested Study Aids For Tort Law

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