87 S.E. 639 (S.C. 1916), 9252, Steele v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co.

Docket Nº:9252.
Citation:87 S.E. 639, 103 S.C. 102
Opinion Judge:HYDRICK, J.
Party Name:STEELE v. ATLANTIC COAST LINE R. CO. ET AL.
Attorney:F. L. Willcox, of Florence, for appellants. Ragsdale & Whiting, of Florence, for respondent.
Case Date:January 03, 1916
Court:Supreme Court of South Carolina

Page 639

87 S.E. 639 (S.C. 1916)

103 S.C. 102

STEELE

v.

ATLANTIC COAST LINE R. CO. ET AL.

No. 9252.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

January 3, 1916

Appeal from Common Pleas Circuit Court of Florence County; J. W. De Vore, Judge.

Action by W. M. Steele against the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company and another. From a judgment for plaintiff, defendants appeal. Reversed.

Gary, C.J., and Watts, J., dissenting.

Page 641

F. L. Willcox, of Florence, for appellants.

Ragsdale & Whiting, of Florence, for respondent.

HYDRICK, J.

Plaintiff was injured while he and the defendant Crumpler were attempting to couple two passenger cars which were provided with automatic couplers. The coupler which is alleged to have been defective and to have caused the injury consists of a knuckle, which is hinged in one side of the drawhead, and is closed in coupling by impact of the cars. On the back of the knuckle there is a projection, called the heel, and when the knuckle is closed a piece of iron, called the lock, slides, or is forced by some device, in front of the heel and locks it. To open the knuckle the lock must be drawn from its position in front of the heel. This is done by a chain about 17 inches long, one end of which is attached to the lock and the other end to a rod which extends down through the platform of the car. When the rod is turned by a lever on the platform, the lock is pulled from its position in front of the heel, and the knuckle may be opened. When a coupling is to be made, the knuckle on one of the cars to be coupled must be open, so that the corresponding knuckle on the other car can pass into the end of the drawhead, and, when it does, the impact closes the open knuckle, and, the lever being released, the lock slides, or is thrown back, into its position in front of the heel and locks the knuckle, and the coupling is accomplished. Of course, if the lever should not be released, the lock cannot go back to its position, and no coupling is effected. If the knuckle is closed, it has to be opened by hand, as it does not open automatically, when unlocked, except in uncoupling cars, when it is pulled open by the knuckle on the opposite car. While not intended to be complete and technically accurate, the foregoing description of the coupler and the manner [103 S.C. 110] of its operation is sufficient to understand the contentions of the parties and issues made by the testimony with regard to the cause of plaintiff's injury.

Crumpler was yard conductor, and had the right to direct plaintiff in the work. In obedience to his order, plaintiff went upon the platform of a car and turned the lever so that Crumpler, who was on the ground, could open the knuckle and effect a coupling with a car which was being backed up to it. Crumpler failed to open the knuckle, and the cars came together while plaintiff was holding the lever, which was forced around so suddenly and violently by the impact of the cars that plaintiff's wrist was injured. Plaintiff alleges that the injury was caused by the negligence of defendant and Crumpler in the following particulars: In failing to furnish a safe and suitable coupler; in ordering him to use a defective coupler, when proper inspection would have discovered the defect and danger of using it; in causing the cars to come together with great force, when the coupler was defective, and plaintiff was holding the lever in such position that serious injury might have been expected to result to him if the coupling should not be made; in the failure of Crumpler to open the knuckle, after he had turned the lever; and in his failure to signal or warn plaintiff to release the lever in time to prevent the injury. The defendants denied the charge of negligence, and set up the defense of contributory negligence and assumption of risk.

Plaintiff testified that he was an expert coupler, having been in the business about five years; that he knew the mechanical construction and operation of the coupler in question; that although he had not examined the chain to this coupler, he was sure that it was too long; that he was not guessing that it was too long from the mere fact of the failure of the appliance to work, but based his statement upon his practical knowledge of its construction and his [103 S.C. 111] experience as a coupler; that, if it had not been too long, when he turned the lever, Crumpler could have opened the knuckle; but that, being too long, it failed to pull the lock from its position in front of the heel of the knuckle far enough to allow the knuckle to open. On cross-examination he admitted that, if Crumpler pulled the knuckle before he turned the lever, the knuckle would not have opened. He admitted, also, that if the knuckle was closed, a direct impact on the knuckle would have exerted no force on the lock, the thing to which the chain was attached, because the lock was in front of the heel of the knuckle; but said that, when the knuckle fails to open and the impact is not direct, and they do not couple, they sometimes slide by, and that throws the whole drawhead to one side and puts such sudden tension on the chain as to cause the lever to fly back; that it is necessary for the drawhead to have some play from side to side. He testified, further, that it was

Page 642

Crumpler's duty to warn him, by word or signal, of the proper moment to release the lever to prevent injury to him by its rebound, and allow the lock to go back in place and effect the coupling; that such warning was not given him, and, if it had been, he would not have been injured; that from his position on the platform he could not see Crumpler, who was on the ground on the opposite side, on account of the vestibule of the car, which was between them, and therefore he could not see that Crumpler had failed to open the knuckle or determine for himself the proper moment to release the lever; that he was listening for Crumpler to tell him when to let loose the lever, and it was his duty to hold it until he had orders to "let go."

Crumpler testified that plaintiff could have seen him and could have seen that he had failed to open the knuckle, but did not deny that it was his duty and custom to warn plaintiff of the proper moment to release the lever. He said, also, that plaintiff did the work according to his directions [103 S.C. 112]and in the proper way, but he could not say whether he undertook to open the knuckle before plaintiff had turned the lever or not; that he tried to open the knuckle and it would not work, and he stepped back and the cars came together. In a signed statement given plaintiff's attorneys just after the accident, he said that, if the knuckle had opened, plaintiff would not have been injured, but said, at the trial, that he might have been injured, notwithstanding his failure to open the knuckle, if the impact had been such as to throw...

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