The Ballad of Harry James Tompkins
76 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2018 Last revised: 11 Sep 2020
Date Written: July 16, 2018
On July 27, 1934, Harry James Tompkins lost his arm, supposedly when an unsecured refrigerator car door on a train operated by the Erie Railroad Company hit him in the head. Tompkins won in a $30,000 judgment in federal court, but in Erie v. Tompkins (1938), the United States Supreme Court famously reversed, holding that federal courts sitting in diversity must apply state substantive law, not federal "general common law." While many scholars have studied Erie v. Tompkins, few have studied the facts of the case, and none have questioned Tompkins's account. This article argues that Tompkins and his witnesses were not telling the truth.
Keywords: Civil Procedure, Erie v. Tompkins, Legal History, Choice of Law
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