Hill v. Norfolk Southern Corp
In Hill v. Norfolk Southern Corp., 619 So. 2d 221 (Ala. 1993), the driver of an automobile sued a railroad and an engineer, seeking damages for injuries sustained in a collision at a railroad crossing.
The Court held that the trial court erred in failing to submit to the jury a verdict form that would have allowed it to return a verdict against the railroad without returning a verdict against the engineer of the train. In that case, after the court completed its oral charge to the jury, the plaintiff objected to the court's failure to provide the jury an opportunity to find against the railroad company only and not against the engineer.
The plaintiff argued that a reasonable construction of the evidence would support a finding that the engineer was not guilty of any negligence or wantonness but that some other employee was; therefore, the plaintiff argued, the railroad could still be liable even if the engineer was not. The court overruled the objection, and the jury found in favor of both defendants.
The Court held that the trial court's error was not harmless, because of the possibility that the jury returned a verdict in favor of both defendants simply because it did not want to return a verdict against the engineer for an accident that was not caused by his negligence.
After the trial court had completed its oral charge to the jury, the plaintiffs stated their objection to the verdict form in the following manner:
"We would respectfully except to that part of the verdict forms given to the jury that do not give the jury an opportunity to find a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and against the railroad company only and not against defendant Willingham, the individual defendant. It is our position that a reasonable construction of the evidence as presented to this jury would allow a finding that Defendant Willingham was not guilty of any negligence or wantonness but that some employee of the crew was, therefore the corporate defendant would be liable." (619 So. 2d at 222.)