39 N.Y. 468, Warner v. Erie Ry. Co.

Citation:39 N.Y. 468
Party Name:LUCY A. WARNER, as Administratrix and Respondent, v. THE ERIE RAILWAY COMPANY, Appellant.
Case Date:September 01, 1868
Court:New York Court of Appeals

Page 468

39 N.Y. 468

LUCY A. WARNER, as Administratrix and Respondent,



New York Court of Appeal

September 1, 1868

Page 469

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 470


J. Ganson, for the appellant.

S. Rogers, for the respondent.


In approaching the consideration of this case, which, in the precise aspect it assumes, may be deemed, in the courts of this State, a pioneer case, it is important to distinguish the principles which are to decide it from those which have been held in cognate cases, and especially to ascertain the precise ground on which the charge and rulings of the judge upon the trial proceded, and by which we are to assume the jury were guided in rendering their verdict.

In the first place, then, it is to be remarked, that the defendant in this action is not responsible, and is not to be made liable for injuries suffered by one of its employees, solely through the carelessness or negligence of another employee of the defendant, engaged in the same general business. The liability to injury from such a source is one which each employee takes upon himself when engaging with others in the service of a common master. It is a hazard incident to the nature of the engagement into which he enters, and in respect to which he becomes, so to speak, his own insurer.

In the second place, the cases which establish this general rule, maintain also the further qualification or extension of it, that the liability is not enlarged by the fact that an injured employee is of an inferior grade of employment to that of the party by whose carelessness the injury is inflicted and the damage caused, provided the services of each in his particular sphere and department are directed to the accomplishment of the same general end. These principles

Page 471

have been often under discussion, and are settled by an array of authorities which it is hardly necessary to cite in detail. The following, among many others, may be deemed sufficient for the purpose:Priestly v. Fowler (3 Mees. & Wels. 1); Coon v. Utica and Syracuse Railroad Company (5 N.Y. 492); Albro v. Agawam Canal Co. (6 Cush. 75).

The only ground, then, which the law recognizes, of liability on the part of the defendant, is that which arises from personal negligence, or such want of care and prudence in the management of its affairs, or the selection of its agents or appliances, the omission of which occasioned the injury, and which, if they had been exercised, would have averted it. We are not now dealing, it must be remembered, with the liability which a railroad corporation assumes in respect to the safety and security of passengers transported on their road for a compensation, and in regard to whom they become absolute insurers against all defects which the highest degree of vigilance would detect or provide against. The liability here, if there is any, is measured by that lower standard which all the authorities recognize in the case of an employee, and which is answered if the care bestowed accords with that reasonable skill and prudence which men exercise in the transaction of their accustomed business and employments.

The ground of liability affirmed in this case, and on account of which a recovery was had, was the alleged weakness, decay and defectiveness of a bridge of the defendant, by the falling of which the death of the intestate was occasioned. The allegations of the complaint are, that the defendant did not use ordinary or reasonable care and diligence in providing a safe and suitable bridge over the Conhocton river, at the place in question; that before the breaking down of the bridge, the defendant had noticed that it was unsafe and insecure for the passage of trains thereon, and that defendant carelessly and negligently failed to cause a suitable examination to be made of said bridge for the purpose of ascertaining whether it was unsafe and insecure. It is further alleged that if any examination was made, it was made by

Page 472

servants and agents who were careless and incompetent, to the knowledge of the defendant, and in the selection and employment of whom the defendant had not used ordinary care and diligence. With these allegations in view as constituting in the mind of the pleader the gravamen of the action, let us see what the case really disclosed, and in what respect it was presented to the jury.

At the close of the plaintiff's testimony there was a motion to nonsuit, founded on the alleged absence of any proof to show negligence, or of any knowledge or notice to the defendant of the unsafe character of the bridge, and this motion was renewed at the close of the testimony. The judge, in reference to this demand, held, that there was not any evidence for the jury to consider, relative to the original sufficiency of the bridge, nor any testimony impeaching the competency of the defendant's employees. He further stated, that there was only one question for the jury, and that was whether the board of directors themselves, as representing the defendant, and as distinguished from the employees, were guilty of negligence in not discovering the...

To continue reading