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Supreme Court of Arkansas

JONES v. ST. LOUIS, I. M. & S. RY. CO.
Arkansas
13 S.W. 416 (Ark.1890)


Case Details
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Summary:  

This involved an action by R. D. Jones against the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway Company, claiming $2,000 damages,--$1,000 for the value of a colt killed by defendant's train, and $1,000 damages for not posting notice of the killing as required by the statute. The court looked at areas in the market outside of the locality since local information on the coltís market value was not available. The court affirmed the lower court's judgment due to a lack in plaintiff's proofs at trial.



Judge HEMINGWAY, J. delivered the opinion of the court.


Opinion of the Court:

   For an injury to property, the owner is entitled to be compensated, by a recovery against the wrong-doer, to the extent of his injury. If personal property be damaged to the extent of destruction, its owner may have compensation by a recovery of its value at the time and place of its destruction. The correct rule for measuring the damage is found in a statement of the right, and about it there is no room for difference. *417 But difficulty in applying the rule, in different cases, has arisen, in determining what evidence is competent to prove the value of property destroyed. To establish value, as to prove other facts, the law requires the best evidence that can be had. In most cases, this rule would require proof of value in the market at the time and place of the injury; for, if the property was held for sale, this shows the extent of the loss in not being able to sell it, and, if it was held for use, this shows what it would cost to replace it. But, while the principle which exacts the best evidence is general, what constitutes the best evidence varies with the circumstances of the different cases. There may have been, in a particular case, an injury to property of a kind not sold, and therefore without market value at the place of injury. Still, it had a value there, either for its utility, or because it might be transported and sold at distant markets; and, as all rules of evidence are adopted for practical purposes in the administration of justice, they should not preclude a recovery because a loss occurred at a place where there was no market for the particular kind of property. The law accomplishes no such result, but accords to the party injured the right to recover the amount of his loss, and exacts no more in proof of the amount than the best evidence of which his case is susceptible. This implies that proof of the market price at other points may be admitted, but does it imply that proof may be admitted of the market price at any or all distant points at which there may be a market? This conclusion would be as unreasonable as that the absence of a local market should exclude all proof of value. It would not be contended that, in an action by a farmer in one of our western states for corn destroyed in his barn, it would be competent to prove the value of corn in Dublin, or that, in trover for furs converted in Alaska, it would be competent to prove the value of similar articles in Berlin or Rome. If such proof tended in some slight degree to establish value, other and better proof is, in the nature of things, to be had, tending more nearly and directly to that result. As the aim of the law is, in such cases, to ascertain value, courts should not admit proof of it which is to a great extent misleading, when it is susceptible of the proof, without the misleading elements, that is manifestly to be had. So we find it established that, where value cannot be fixed by the proof of local markets, it may be done by proof of value at the nearest point where similar property is bought and sold, with such addition or deduction for cost of transportation, and the hazard and expense incident thereto, as may be necessary to determine its actual value at the place of the injury. If it was held for sale, the amount of recovery should be a sum which would have been realized upon a sale, and in such case there should be a deduction from its value in the distant market; while, if it was held for use, the recovery should be of a sum sufficient to replace it, and there should be an addition to the price in the distant market to meet the cost and hazard of transportation. Coolidge v. Choate, 11 Metc. 79; Grand Tower Co. v. Phillips, 23 Wall 471; 2 Suth. Dam. 373. In what we have said, we have not attempted to formulate a rule of universal application; for there are states of case in which courts, in order to ascertain actual value, and arrive at a just finding, have adopted a different rule for the admission of evidence, not violating, but really conserving, the principles that we have announced. Thus, in the case of Harris v. Railway Co., 58 N. Y. 660, which was an action for killing a race-horse on the isthmus of Panama, the court held that proof of the value of the horse in San Francisco was admissible; it appearing that there was no local market for such animals, and that it was being transported to San Francisco when killed. So, in other cases, it is held that proof of distant markets may be received when they and the local market are interdependent or sympathetic. 2 Whart. Ev. § 1290.

   The absence of a local market was not disclosed by the state of the case when the court suppressed the depositions; nor did it appear that the market value of similar animals in Leslie, Mich., had any reasonable or satisfactory tendency to prove the value of plaintiff's animal when and where it was killed. No such deduction could be drawn from the relative situation of the two places, or from their ordinary business intercourse. It follows that the depositions were irrelevant and incompetent.

   If, for any reason not apparent, they were competent, the plaintiff should have advised the court of the reason, with an offer to prove it on the trial. If he had done so, the court would, doubtless, have admitted the depositions, when proof revealed their competency. As plaintiff failed to do this, the court could determine the question of relevancy only in the light of the depositions excepted to and the pleadings; and, as they disclosed no relevancy, it was right in sustaining the motion to suppress. If, in the progress of the trial, plaintiff made proof in connection with which the depositions became competent, he should then have offered them in evidence. This he failed to do. If he had done so and the court had excluded them, we would be called to decide whether they were competent, in connection with the proof that there was no market for the injured animal at the place of its injury. But the circuit court did not rule on that state of the case, and it is not before us for review.

   No other ground of reversal is urged; and, as there was no error in the court's action in this regard, the judgment will be affirmed.

Ark. 1890.

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