337 U.S. 163 (1949), 129, Urie v. Thompson

Docket Nº:No. 129
Citation:337 U.S. 163, 69 S.Ct. 1018, 93 L.Ed. 1282
Party Name:Urie v. Thompson
Case Date:May 31, 1949
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 163

337 U.S. 163 (1949)

69 S.Ct. 1018, 93 L.Ed. 1282

Urie

v.

Thompson

No. 129

United States Supreme Court

May 31, 1949

Argued January 3, 1949

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI

Syllabus

1. The coverage of the Federal Employers' Liability Act and the Boiler Inspection Act is not confined to injuries resulting from accidents, but includes injuries in the nature of occupational diseases, such as silicosis. Pp. 173-175, 180-196.

(a) Negligence of an interstate railroad which results in a locomotive fireman's contracting silicosis as a result of inhaling silica dust gives rise to a cause of action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act independently of the Boiler Inspection Act. Pp. 173-175, 180-187.

(b) Failure of an interstate railroad to maintain sanders on its locomotives in good condition, pursuant to provisions of the Boiler Inspection Act, is negligence per se, and gives rise to a cause of action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act in favor of a locomotive fireman who contracted silicosis from inhaling silica dust as a result of the malfunctioning of the sanders. Pp. 187-195.

2. A complaint which sufficiently charged an interstate railroad with knowingly having used, in excessive quantities, a dangerous sand material likely to cause silicosis and in fact causing complainant to contract it and become permanently disabled, due in part to faulty adjustment of sanders and failure to use due care in adjusting them, was sufficient to state a cause of action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act independently of the Boiler Inspection Act. Pp. 175-180.

3. The Boiler Inspection Act vests in the Interstate Commerce Commission rulemaking power adequate to protect employees against disease as well as against accidents, and injury resulting from violations of these rules is compensable under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. Pp. 193-194.

4. That petitioner's contraction of silicosis resulted from the inhalation of silica dust over a period of thirty years and he may have had silicosis without knowing it for more than three years before he sued for compensation under the Federal Employers' Liability Act did not bar his claim when the time which elapsed between his discovery of his condition and the filing of suit did not exceed three years, the period of limitations then prescribed by that Act. Pp. 168-171.

Page 164

5. Petitioner sued for compensation under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, alleging that he had contracted silicosis as a result of the railroad's negligence and without claiming any violation of the Boiler Inspection Act. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the complaint. The State Supreme Court held that the allegations of negligence were not sufficient to sustain the action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act alone, but it remanded the case for trial because it thought that the complaint sufficiently alleged a breach of the Boiler Inspection Act. Petitioner amended his complaint to charge specifically violations of the Boiler Inspection Act; the jury found in his favor, and he obtained a judgment. On a second appeal, the State Supreme Court reversed this judgment on the ground that the Boiler Inspection Act applies only to accidental injuries, and not to occupational diseases.

Held:

(a) Although the question was neither raised nor considered on the second appeal to the State Supreme Court, the sufficiency of petitioner's original claim for negligence involved in the first appeal is reviewable here, since the first judgment of the State Supreme Court was not a final judgment. Pp. 171-172.

(b) Complainant did not waive that question by amending his complaint to state a claim specifically under the Boiler Inspection Act or by proceeding with trial on that theory. P. 172.

6. Local rules of practice cannot bar this Court's independent consideration of all substantial federal questions actually determined in earlier stages of litigation by a state court whose final adjudication is brought here for review. Pp. 172-173.

A state trial court sustained a demurrer to a complaint seeking recovery under the Federal Employers' Liability Act for injuries incurred by contracting silicosis as a result of a railroad's negligence. The State Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for trial, holding that the complaint was sufficient to allege a breach of the Boiler Inspection Act. 352 Mo. 211, 176 S.W.2d 471. After amending his complaint so as to allege specifically a violation of the Boiler Inspection Act, complainant obtained a judgment in the trial court. On a second appeal, the State Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Boiler Inspection Act was inapplicable to injuries

Page 165

sustained except through accidents. 357 Mo. 738, 210 S.W.2d 98. This Court granted certiorari. 335 U.S. 809. Reversed, p. 196.

RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The primary question is whether the coverage of the Federal Employers' Liability Act and the Boiler Inspection Act1 includes injuries in the nature of occupational disease, here silicosis, or is confined exclusively to injuries inflicted by accident. After having been twice before the Supreme Court of Missouri, the case is here on certiorari, 335 U.S. 809, for review of its final decision on the second appeal that recovery may not be had for other than accidental injuries. A statement of the course taken by the proceedings in the state courts, as well as of the facts, becomes necessary for resolving the issues presented.

In 1941, petitioner Tom Urie filed suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act against respondent Thompson, trustee of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. According to petitioner's allegations, he had been employed as a fireman on steam locomotives of the interstate Missouri Pacific for roughly thirty years. In 1940, he had been forced to cease work by a pulmonary disease diagnosed

Page 166

as silicosis. This permanently disabling affliction had been caused [69 S.Ct. 1023] by continuous inhalation of silica dust blown or sucked into the cabs of the locomotives on which he had worked. The injurious concentration of silica dust in the air breathed by petitioner arose from the railroad's use in its locomotives' sanding boxes of sand materials containing 80 to 90 percent of silica or silicon dioxide and the emission by the locomotives' faultily adjusted "sanders"2 of such sand materials in excessive amounts beyond those needed to provide traction for locomotive wheels. Respondent Thompson, trustee of the railroad since 1933, "knew, or by the exercise of due care should have known," of the danger of silicosis arising from the conditions of petitioner's employment.3

The trial court sustained respondent's demurrer to the complaint. On appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the action could not be maintained by virtue of the Federal Employers' Liability Act alone, for the reason that respondent could not have

anticipated plaintiff's injury, and . . . therefore . . . the petition does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action for negligence under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

352 Mo. 211, 219, 176 S.W.2d 471, 475. The court felt, however, that the claimed malfunctioning of the locomotives' sanders was in substance an allegation of breach of § 2 of the Boiler Inspection Act, and that, since proof of breach of the latter Act would support a recovery under the Federal

Page 167

Employers' Liability Act without regard to respondent's negligence, Lilly v. Grand Trunk Western R. Co., 317 U.S. 481, 485-486; petitioner had stated a cause of action. Furthermore, the court held that the Federal Employers' Liability Act's three-year statute of limitations, 45 U.S.C. § 56, did not bar petitioner's claim, since his "cause of action accrued in May, 1940, when he became incapacitated. . . ." 352 Mo. at 222, 176 S.W.2d at 477. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment and remanded the cause for trial.

On remand, petitioner amended his complaint to charge specifically violations of the Boiler Inspection Act. Section 2 of that Act, as amended, makes it

unlawful for any carrier to use or permit to be used on its line and locomotive unless said locomotive, its boiler, tender, and all parts and appurtenances thereof are in proper condition and safe to operate in the service to which the same are put, that the same may be employed in the active service of such carrier without unnecessary peril to life or limb. . . .

45 U.S.C. § 23.4 The violations alleged were (1) that the sanders were broken or faultily adjusted so as to release too much sand, and (2) that the locomotive decks and cabs were in a bad state of repair,

Page 168

admitting dust through various cracks and openings in the cab's floor and elsewhere which ought to have been sealed off.

[69 S.Ct. 1024] The case was tried to a jury under instructions that negligence was not in issue, and that petitioner should prevail if he proved that he had contracted silicosis by reason of respondent's breach of an

absolute and continuing duty to have such locomotive engines and all their parts and appurtenances thereof, in proper condition and safe to operate . . . without unnecessary peril to the life of Tom Urie. . . .

The jury found for petitioner in the amount of $30,000.

Upon respondent's appeal the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the judgment entered on this verdict. 357 Mo. 738, 210 S.W.2d 98. Noting that, on the former review, it did not "treat with a contention that "silicosis" is not an evil at which the Act is aimed," id. 357 Mo. at 746, 210 S.W.2d at 102, the court concluded that the Boiler Inspection Act "is aimed at promoting safety from...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP