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Eichel v. New York Central R. Co.

U.S.
Dec 16, 1963
375 U.S. 253 (1963)

Summary

holding that evidence of disability payments was inadmissible in a Federal Employers' Liability Act action

Summary of this case from Tindle v. Hunter Marine Transp., Inc.

Opinion

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.

No. 480.

Decided December 16, 1963.

In this suit by petitioner under the Federal Employer's Liability Act to recover damages for a permanently disabling injury resulting from respondent's negligence, the jury returned a verdict of $51,000 for petitioner, and the District Court entered judgment accordingly. The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the District Court had committed prejudicial error in excluding evidence that petitioner was receiving a disability pension of $190 per month under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937. Held: The District Court properly excluded the evidence of disability payments. Pp. 253-256.

319 F.2d 12, reversed and remanded.

Arnold B. Elkind and Richard C. Machcinski for petitioner.

Gerald E. Dwyer for respondent.


Petitioner, who had been employed by respondent New York Central Railroad for 40 years, brought this action against respondent under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 35 Stat. 65, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. The complaint alleged that in 1960, as a result of respondent's negligence, petitioner suffered a permanently disabling injury. The jury returned a verdict of $51,000 for petitioner and the District Court entered judgment in accordance with that verdict. Respondent offered evidence that petitioner was receiving $190 a month in disability pension payments under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937, 50 Stat. 309, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 228b (a) 4. This evidence was offered for the purpose of impeaching the testimony of petitioner as to his motive for not returning to work and as to the permanency of his injuries. The trial court excluded the evidence in response to the objection of petitioner's counsel. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding it prejudicial error to exclude the evidence of the disability pension, and remanded "for a new trial, limited, however, to the issues of injury and resulting damages . . . ." 319 F.2d 12, 14. The court affirmed the judgment "as to the determination of negligence." Ibid. We grant certiorari and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Respondent does not dispute that it would be highly improper for the disability pension payments to be considered in mitigation of the damages suffered by petitioner. Thus it has been recognized that:

"The Railroad Retirement Act is substantially a Social Security Act for employees of common carriers. . . . The benefits received under such a system of social legislation are not directly attributable to the contributions of the employer, so they cannot be considered in mitigation of the damages caused by the employer." New York, N. H. H.R. Co. v. Leary, 204 F.2d 461, 468, cert. denied, 346 U.S. 856.

See Sinovich v. Erie R. Co., 230 F.2d 658, 661; Page v. St. Louis S. R. Co., 312 F.2d 84, 94. See also Gregory and Kalven, Cases and Materials on Torts (1959), pp. 480-482; McCormick, Damages (1935), p. 310, n. 2; Comment, 38 Mich. L. Rev. 1073.

Respondent argues that the evidence of the disability payments, although concededly inadmissible to offset or mitigate damages, is admissible as bearing on the extent and duration of the disability suffered by petitioner. At the trial counsel for respondent argued that the pension would show "a motive for [petitioner's] not continuing work, and for his deciding not to continue going back to work after the last accident." On the basis of this argument the Court of Appeals concluded that the disputed evidence should have been admitted because: "Its substantial probative value cannot reasonably be said to be outweighed by the risk that it will . . . create substantial danger of undue prejudice through being considered by the jury for the incompetent purpose of a set-off against lost earnings." 319 F.2d, at 20.

We disagree. In our view the likelihood of misuse by the jury clearly outweighs the value of this evidence. Insofar as the evidence bears on the issue of malingering, there will generally be other evidence having more probative value and involving less likelihood of prejudice than the receipt of a disability pension. Moreover, it would violate the spirit of the federal statutes if the receipt of disability benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937, 50 Stat. 309, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 228b (a) 4, were considered as evidence of malingering by an employee asserting a claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. We have recently had occasion to be reminded that evidence of collateral benefits is readily subject to misuse by a jury. Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Co., Inc., 375 U.S. 34. It has long been recognized that evidence showing that the defendant is insured creates a substantial likelihood of misuse. Similarly, we must recognize that the petitioner's receipt of collateral social insurance benefits involves a substantial likelihood of prejudicial impact. We hold therefore that the District Court properly excluded the evidence of disability payments. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Cf. McCormick, Evidence (1954), c. 19; 2 Wigmore, Evidence (1940), § 282a.

See Kalven, The Jury, the Law, and the Personal Injury Damage Award, 19 Ohio St. L. J. 158, 169.

See notes 1-3, supra.

Reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS concurs in the result.


Once again, I am obliged to record my view that certiorari should not have been granted in a case of this kind, involving only a question of the admissibility of evidence in a suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 35 Stat. 65, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 51. See my dissenting opinion in Tipton v. Socony Mobil Oil Co., Inc., earlier this Term, ante, p. 37.

On the merits, I agree with the majority that the judgment below should be reversed, but for different reasons. Whether or not evidence that the petitioner was receiving disability pension payments under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937, 50 Stat. 307, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 228a, should have been admitted depends on a balance between its probative bearing on the issue as to which it was offered, in this case the respondent's claim that petitioner was a malingerer, and the possibility of prejudice to the petitioner resulting from the jury's consideration of the evidence on issues as to which it is irrelevant. When a balance of this sort has to be struck, it should, except in rare instances, be left to the discretion of the trial judge, subject to review for abuse. See Uniform Rules of Evidence, Rule 45; Model Code of Evidence, Rule 303. It is he who is in the best position to weigh the relevant factors, such as the value of the disputed evidence as compared with other proof adducible to the same end and the effectiveness of limiting instructions. Believing that this rule should have been followed here, I concur in reversing the judgment below, which not only held the evidence not inadmissible as a matter of law but also directed its admission on retrial.

For the same reasons, however, I dissent from the majority's holding that the evidence is required to be excluded. I see no reason why evidentiary questions should be given different treatment when they arise in an F. E. L. A. case than when they arise in other contexts.


Summaries of

Eichel v. New York Central R. Co.

U.S.
Dec 16, 1963
375 U.S. 253 (1963)

holding that evidence of disability payments was inadmissible in a Federal Employers' Liability Act action

Summary of this case from Tindle v. Hunter Marine Transp., Inc.

holding that evidence of payment under a "disability pension" was not admissible on the issue of whether plaintiff was malingering

Summary of this case from Robinson v. Sheet Metal Workers'

holding that, in FELA cases, collateral-source payments are inadmissible as bearing on extent or duration of disability

Summary of this case from Houchins v. Soo Line R.R. Co.

finding that the "likelihood of misuse by the jury clearly outweighs the value of this evidence"

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finding that the "likelihood of misuse by the jury clearly outweighs the value of this evidence"

Summary of this case from Reed v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co.

In Eichel, the Court upheld the district court's decision to exclude evidence of plaintiff's receipt of benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act ("RRA"). The defendant in that case attempted to introduce such evidence for the limited purpose of "impeaching the testimony of petitioner as to his motive for not returning to work and as to the permanency of his injuries.

Summary of this case from Toth v. Grand Trunk Railroad

stating "[r]espondent does not dispute that it would be highly improper for the disability pension payments to be considered in mitigation of" petitioner's damages

Summary of this case from Arneson v. Callahan

In Eichel v. New York Central R.R., 375 U.S. 253, 84 S.Ct. 316, 11 L.Ed.2d 307 (1963), the Court upheld a trial court's refusal to admit evidence that the plaintiff was receiving disability under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937.

Summary of this case from Brooks v. Cook

excluding evidence of Railroad Retirement Act benefits, even though defendant offered them to show plaintiff's motive for staying out of work

Summary of this case from Gates v. Shell Oil

In Eichel, defendant sought to introduce evidence of payment of a disability benefit to impeach the testimony of the plaintiff as to his motive for not returning to work and as to the permanence of his injuries.

Summary of this case from Vanskike v. Union Pacific R. Co.

In Eichel v. New York Central R. R., 375 U.S. 253, 255-56, 84 S.Ct. 316, 317, 11 L.Ed.2d 307 (1963) (per curiam), the Supreme Court held that collateral source payments are inadmissible as bearing on the extent or duration of disability in FELA cases.Eichel dealt specifically with Railroad Retirement Act benefits, but this circuit has applied the Eichel rule to other sources. Raycraft v. Duluth, Missabe Iron Range Ry., 472 F.2d 27, 29 (8th Cir. 1973) (VA disability benefits).

Summary of this case from Vanskike v. ACF Industries, Inc.

In Eichel v. New York Central Railroad Co., 375 U.S. 253, 84 S.Ct. 316, 11 L.Ed.2d 307 (1963), the Supreme Court held that in an action under the FELA, evidence of disability pension payments was inadmissible either as bearing on the extent or duration of the injury or to show a motive for not returning to work.

Summary of this case from Sheehy v. Southern Pac. Transp. Co.

In Eichel, the Supreme Court balanced the probative value of such evidence against any unfair prejudice and determined that in such cases, the value is greatly outweighed by possible prejudice.

Summary of this case from Sheehy v. Southern Pac. Transp. Co.

In Eichel, the Supreme Court held that such a rule was appropriate because "the likelihood of misuse by the jury clearly outweighs the value of" the evidence of collateral source income.

Summary of this case from Dent v. BNSF Ry. Co.

In Eichel, the Supreme Court held that such a rule was appropriate because "the likelihood of misuse by the jury clearly outweighs the value of" the evidence of collateral source income.

Summary of this case from Smithwick v. BNSF Ry. Co.

noting that evidence of collateral benefits is "subject to misuse by a jury" and is likely to cause "prejudicial impact"

Summary of this case from ICTSI Or., Inc. v. Int'l Longshore & Warehouse Union

stating that evidence the plaintiff is receiving benefits from a collateral source is prejudicial

Summary of this case from Aidini v. Costco Wholesale Corp.

In Eichel, the Supreme Court determined that evidence of disability benefits should be excluded due to "the likelihood of misuse by the jury," which "clearly outweighs the value of this evidence" and noted that it had "recently had occasion to be reminded that evidence of collateral benefits is readily subject to misuse by a jury."

Summary of this case from Wright v. BNSF Ry. Co.

stating that evidence the plaintiff is receiving benefits from a collateral source is prejudicial

Summary of this case from Calvert v. Ellis

In Eichel, the defendant offered evidence that the plaintiff received $190 a month in disability pension payments under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937 for the purpose of impeaching the testimony of petitioner as to his motive for not returning to work and as to the permanency of his injuries.

Summary of this case from Steinherr v. CSX Trans

In Eichel v. New York Central. R.R., 375 U.S. 253 (1963) the Supreme Court held that evidence of disability payments under the Railroad Retirement Act was inadmissible in an FELA action. Courts have continued to find that the collateral source rule applies to payments made under the Railroad Retirement Act and evidence of the payments is inadmissible in an FELA action.

Summary of this case from Stevenson v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

In Eichel, a FELA case, the defendant railroad sought to introduce evidence of disability payments made to the plaintiff under the Railroad Retirement Act. Defendant wanted to use this evidence to impeach plaintiff's testimony about his motive for not returning to work and the permanency of his injuries.

Summary of this case from Waggoner v. Ohio Central Railroad, Inc.

In Eichel v. New York Central Railroad Co., 375 U.S. 253 (1963), the Supreme Court barred any reference to the fact that the plaintiff received collateral income in the form of disability benefits from the RRB. The Supreme Court held that the likelihood of misuse of this evidence by the jury outweighed its value.

Summary of this case from Edsall v. CSX Transportation, Inc. (N.D.Ind. 1-28-2008)

In Eichel, the Supreme Court in a per curiam opinion held that in a suit to recover damages under FELA for permanently disabling injury resulting from the railroad's negligence, the district court properly excluded evidence of disability payments.

Summary of this case from Joseph v. River Parishes Co., Inc.

In Eichel, also a FELA case, the defendant wanted to use evidence of the plaintiffs pension to show the plaintiff's motive for not continuing to work.

Summary of this case from Finley v. National R.R. Passenger Corp.
Case details for

Eichel v. New York Central R. Co.

Case Details

Full title:EICHEL v . NEW YORK CENTRAL RAILROAD CO

Court:U.S.

Date published: Dec 16, 1963

Citations

375 U.S. 253 (1963)
84 S. Ct. 316
11 L. Ed. 2d 307

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