Swift & Co. v. Schuster, No. 4276.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtHUXMAN, MURRAH and PICKETT, Circuit
Citation192 F.2d 615
Docket NumberNo. 4276.
Decision Date05 January 1952

192 F.2d 615 (1951)


No. 4276.

United States Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit.

October 30, 1951.

Rehearing Denied January 5, 1952.

Le Roy Young, Ogden, Utah (Roy D. Thatcher and Paul Thatcher, Ogden, Utah, on the brief), for appellant.

M. Blaine Peterson and Lewis J. Wallace, Ogden, Utah, for appellee.

Before HUXMAN, MURRAH and PICKETT, Circuit Judges.

HUXMAN, Circuit Judge.

William H. Schuster, a United States Government meat inspector, brought this action against appellant, Swift and Company, to recover damages for personal injuries as a result of alleged negligence on the company's part. The complaint alleged that the company was engaged in the business of slaughtering and meat packing in Utah; that at the time in question it negligently allowed to exist and negligently maintained on the fourth floor of the building a dangerous condition by maintaining a meat inspection platform for workers approximately twenty-two inches above a wet, slippery and greasy slaughter floor, without maintaining a step for ascending and descending from the platform; that on the occasion in question plaintiff, while engaged in his duties as a meat inspector for the United States Department of Agriculture, stepped down from the platform to the wet, greasy and slippery floor, slipped and fell and, in catching himself, twisted and wrenched his back, sustaining a severe and permanent injury, for all of which he sought damages.

The answer set up two affirmative defenses — assumption of risk and contributory negligence. A third defense, volenti non fit injuria, was injected into the case and the case was ultimately tried and submitted to the jury on all three defenses. The only evidence adduced at the trial was

192 F.2d 616
the testimony of Schuster. At the conclusion of his testimony, appellant moved for a dismissal and for a directed verdict on the grounds that plaintiff had failed to prove negligence on the part of the defendant; that plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence; that if assumption of risk cannot be invoked, recovery was precluded by the application of the maxim volenti non fit injuria. The motion was denied. The jury returned a verdict for plaintiff and judgment was entered thereon. The only question presented by this appeal is whether the court erred in denying Swift's motion for dismissal and for a directed verdict

The uncontradicted evidence from which the answer must be sought is as follows. Schuster was employed by the Federal Government as a meat inspector and was assigned to appellant's plant at Ogden, Utah. His duties required his constant presence on the killing floor of the plant where the carcasses of the slaughtered animals were conveyed by machinery for inspection past a platform on which Schuster stood. The platform was about twenty-three inches high. There were no steps leading to the top of the platform at the time of the accident, but such steps were installed thereafter. Schuster had been on or about these premises in his line of employment on many occasions and had stepped up and down from this platform numerous times, both at the place where the accident occurred and at another corner where there were some structures he could use as a hand hold. Because of sanitary requirements, the floor of the slaughter room was kept wet and it often became slippery because of fat or other substances in the gutter or drain. Schuster wore rubber half boots with a tread on the soles resembling an automobile tire. During the course of his inspection duties, he was required to step from the platform to the floor frequently. On the occasion of the accident, Schuster had been working at the plant for approximately a month and had completed his inspection for the day and stepped down from the platform on the East end to the floor, where he slipped and almost fell. In attempting to catch himself, he twisted his back, resulting in the injury complainted of in this litigation.

The trial court under appropriate instructions not challenged on appeal submitted to the jury the question of primary negligence on appellant's part, as well as the questions of assumption of risk, contributory negligence and volenti non fit injuria as affecting Schuster's right of recovery, in event the company was found guilty of primary negligence.

We think the question of primary negligence on appellant's part was properly submitted to the jury. Schuster was a business invitee on the premises and as such the company owed him the duty to keep and maintain the premises in a safe condition.1 The very nature of the operations caused fats and oils to accumulate on the floor and washing them away into a gutter at the edge of the floor to be carried away required the floor to be kept wet. This made for slippery conditions of the floor and made slipping thereon a hazard, both in walking over the floor and in stepping to the platform twenty-three inches high and again therefrom to the floor. Under these conditions, it was appellant's duty to do what a reasonably prudent person should do to make ascending the platform from the floor and stepping down therefrom safe and free from danger. Certainly the construction of steps leading to the platform would minimize the danger from slipping in ascending and descending from the platform. Whether a reasonably prudent person would provide such steps and whether failure to do so constituted lack of due regard for the safety of an invitee is a question on which the minds of reasonably prudent persons might differ. It cannot be said as a matter of law that the appellant owed no duty to its invitees in this respect and the question of appellant's

192 F.2d 617
primary negligence was properly submitted to the jury

There is no uniformity in the cases which have considered and applied the principles of assumption of risk, volenti non fit injuria and contributory negligence. No cases are cited and our search has failed to reveal any decisions by the Utah Courts drawing a clear distinction between the applicability of contributory negligence, assumption of risk or volenti non fit injuria, in the case of an invitee. We, therefore, look to the general law for the answer. Knox v. Snow, Utah, 229 P.2d 874 is cited by appellant as decisive of the question presented by this appeal. The facts of that case, however, clearly distinguish it from this one. A casual reading thereof clearly shows that the court's conclusion that the plaintiff there was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law is amply supported by the overwhelming weight of the evidence.

An examination of only a small number of the cases which have dealt with these three principles leads one into a maze of confusion and contradictions, from which one emerges only with a conviction that the decisions are irreconcilable. It is generally stated that the doctrine of assumption of risk applies only to master and servant relationship and arises only by contract. A great number of cases have held that the doctrine is not applicable to an invitee.2 There are however, numerous cases wherein it has been held that an invitee may not recover for injuries because of the negligence of a defendant, because being aware of the danger, he assumed the risk incident thereto.3 So it has been frequently stated that assumption of risk and contributory negligence are closely allied and that the one shades into the other. In Schlemmer v. Buffalo, Rochester & P. R. Co., 205 U.S. 1, 12, 27 S.Ct. 407, 409, 51 L.Ed. 681, the Supreme Court said: "Assumption of risk in this broad sense obviously shades into negligence as commonly understood. Negligence consists in conduct which common experience or the special knowledge of the actor shows to be so likely to produce the result complained of, under the circumstances known to the actor, that he is held answerable for that result, although it was not certain, intended, or foreseen. He is held to assume the risk upon the same ground. * * * But the difference between the two is one of degree rather than of kind; * * *."4

In many cases in which courts have held that invitees were barred from recovery because they...

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16 cases
  • Mounsey v. Ellard
    • United States
    • Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
    • 6 de junho de 1973
    ...employees who are required to enter on a person's property in the performance of their duties are invitees. See Swift & Co. v. Schuster, 192 F.2d 615 (10th Cir.) (meat inspector); Fred Howland, Inc. v. Morris, 143 Fla. 189, 196 So. 472 (building inspector); Anderson & Nelson Distilleries Co......
  • Nieman v. Jacobs, No. 6463
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arizona
    • 16 de dezembro de 1959
    ...to take account of modern business realities--, would not preclude recovery in such circumstances. Cf. Swift & Co. v. Schuster, 10 Cir., 192 F.2d 615; Seelbach, Inc. v. Mellman, 293 Ky 790, 170 S.W.2d 18, 19; James, Tort Liability Page 710 of Occupiers of Land: Duties Owed to Licensees and ......
  • Williamson v. Smith, No. 9243
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • 13 de dezembro de 1971
    ...contradiction, from which one emerges only with a conviction that the decisions are irreconcilable.' Swift and Co. v. Schuster, 10 Cir., 192 F.2d 615, 617. Probably because of this 'confusion and contradiction' a number of courts have very recently restricted the scope of affirmative defens......
  • Demarest v. TC Bateson Construction Company, No. 8357
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • 25 de janeiro de 1967
    ...contradiction, from which one emerges only with a conviction that the decisions are irreconcilable." Swift and Co. v. Schuster, 10 Cir., 192 F.2d 615, 617. Probably because of this "confusion and contradiction" a number of courts have very recently restricted the scope of affirmative defens......
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