Hawkins v. Nuttallburg Coal & Coke Co

In Hawkins v. Nuttallburg Coal & Coke Co., 66 W. Va. 415, 66 S.E. 520 (1909), a coal company employee was killed and his administrator brought a wrongful death action against the coal company. The jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiff for $ 500 in damages, and the plaintiff moved the court to set aside the verdict because it was so small that it evinced passion, prejudice, or corruption. The circuit court set aside the verdict and awarded the plaintiff a new trial, and the coal company appealed. The Court held that the circuit court erred in setting aside the verdict and stated: "We have held that, where a motion to set aside a verdict is because of excessive or inadequate damages, the court must not encroach on the province of a jury. In their assessment in tort cases there is no fixed measure, as in cases of contract. This is the case in actions generally. But in the case of an action under the statute for the death of a person this is peculiarly the case. Our decisions go to the effect that the jury, in such cases, is under the statute giving the action absolutely the judge of the amount of damages, and its finding cannot be disturbed unless the court can see that the jury was actuated by passion, prejudice, or corruption." (Id., 66 W. Va. at 416, 66 S.E. at 520.) The Court further said that the presence of passion, prejudice, or corruption cannot be presumed from the mere amount of the verdict.