250 U.S. 76 (1919), 241, Fillippon v. Albion Vein Slate Company

Docket NºNo. 241
Citation250 U.S. 76, 39 S.Ct. 435, 63 L.Ed. 853
Party NameFillippon v. Albion Vein Slate Company
Case DateMay 19, 1919
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 76

250 U.S. 76 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 435, 63 L.Ed. 853



Albion Vein Slate Company

No. 241

United States Supreme Court

May 19, 1919

Argued March 18, 1919




In response to an inquiry from the jury, who had retired to consider of their verdict, the trial court sent them a supplementary instruction in writing on a question of contributory negligence. Held error, the parties and their counsel being absent and no opportunity being given them either to be present or to make timely objection. P. 80.

Page 77

An opportunity afterwards to except to an instruction and to the manner of giving it is not equivalent to an opportunity to be present during the proceedings, since the prime and essential function of an exception is to direct the mind of the trial judge to the point in question so that he may reconsider and change his ruling if convinced of error. P. 81.

In jury trials, erroneous instructions are presumptively harmful. P. 82.

An erroneous instruction may neutralize a correct one on the same subject and introduce material error. P. 83.

Under the law of Pennsylvania, a servant who goes on with perilous work under the peremptory orders of his master, although knowing the attendant danger and having time to consider, is not guilty of contributory negligence unless he knows, or has reason to suppose, that the danger is inevitable or imminent. P. 82.

242 F. 258, reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

PITNEY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves an important question of trial practice. It was an action brought by Fillippon, a citizen of Italy and a subject of the King of Italy, against the Slate Company, a Pennsylvania corporation doing business in that state, to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by plaintiff while in the employ of defendant, due as alleged to the negligence of defendant's foreman or superintendent under whom plaintiff was working. The grounds of negligence alleged were the failure to furnish a reasonably safe place for the work, failure to warn plaintiff of latent dangers of the work and the dangerous method of doing it, and specifically that plaintiff was directed to do the work in a particular manner under orders and

Page 78

instructions of defendant's foreman, to which plaintiff was bound to conform. There was a general plea of not guilty and a trial by jury. The evidence showed that the occurrence took place July 31, 1914, while plaintiff was at work in an open quarry under the direction of a foreman or superintendent and as one of a gang consisting of four quarrymen or blockmen besides plaintiff who assisted them as an ordinary laborer or "rubbish hand." It appeared that, by the usual method of work, with which plaintiff was familiar, after a block of slate has been blasted out, it is raised by crowbars and by wedges of wood or iron placed beneath it in order that chains may be placed about it to which the hoisting tackle is made fast. In case the block is small, the wedges are placed by the workman's hand, it not being necessary to insert them beyond the edge of the block. In case of large blocks, the wedges are put in by hand so far as this can be done without placing the hand beneath the block, and then a stick or the handle of a tool is employed in order to push the wedge farther in, the workman being thus protected from injury in case the stone should happen to slip or drop. Plaintiff's duty as rubbish hand was that of a general utility man, expected to do whatever the foreman or superintendent might direct. On the occasion in question, a large block had been blasted out and was being raised in order that chains might be put about it. Plaintiff was assisting, and had inserted a wedge as far as he could push it without putting his hand beneath the stone, but it was necessary that the wedge should be pushed further in, and he, being afraid that, if he did this with his hand, the block might fall upon his arm, told the foreman or superintendent that he wanted to get something with which to push the wedge. Instead of consenting, the foreman ordered him to "go ahead, go ahead," and in obedience to this, he put his right hand beneath the block, when, with a sudden movement, the block came down on

Page 79

his arm and crushed it so that amputation was necessary.

The trial judge submitted the question of defendant's negligence and of plaintiff's contributory negligence to the jury, saying in his principal charge, among other things:

[39 S.Ct. 436]

When a man accepts employment, he assumes with it the ordinary risk incident to such employment, and if you find the circumstances or situation in which the plaintiff found himself at the time of the accident, or that his performance leading up to the injury was of ordinary occurrence, then you may conclude that he had assumed the risk of the accident that has befallen him, and he cannot recover; but on his part, it is contended that the situation in which he found himself at the time when the slate block was suspended or lifted by the men was of an extraordinary character, that the plaintiff when about to place the iron wedge found the stone or block large, and threatening danger, as he believed, whereupon he was suddenly and hastily summoned and directed to act by the foreman, whereupon he had but little or no time to judge of his own safety, and yielding to the judgment of his superior he acted. Now, if you find the facts as contended for by the plaintiff, I will ask you to say whether he was guilty of contributory negligence under the circumstances. Could he have protected or saved himself by the use or exercise of ordinary care? If he is to blame in part, or has in any manner contributed...

To continue reading

Request your trial