American Bridge Co. v. Seeds

Decision Date09 March 1906
Docket Number2,255.
Citation144 F. 605
PartiesAMERICAN BRIDGE CO. v. SEEDS.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

A bridge company so constructed falsework for the rebuilding of a bridge and rails parallel to and outside the bridge for a traveler, which carried blocks and tackle and other machinery, that there was a space 9 feet wide between the traveler runs and stringers on the sides of the bridge. Loose planks 12 feet apart extended from the stringers to these rails. The foreman of the plaintiff's gang ordered him to cross from one of the traveler runs to the stringer and hitch the runner of the tackle to some iron chords. He did so, and started back across the open space upon a plank, but before he had crossed the foreman gave to the man who operated the blocks and tackle by means of an engine a signal to raise the load rapidly, and as it rose it swung against the plaintiff and the plank and knocked them to the ice below. The company furnished materials sufficient to floor the place and to make a snub line. Held, that the proximate cause of the accident was the inopportune signal of the foreman.

(Syllabus by the Court.)

A servant assumes the risk of the negligence of his superior fellow servant in the latter's direction of the men, of the machinery, and of the work, to the same extent that he assumed the risk of the negligence of the fellow laborer by his side, who is engaged in performing the work.

An alleged act of negligence, which would not have produced the injury, but for the interposition of an independent cause which could not have been reasonably anticipated, but which turned aside the natural sequence of events and produced the result, is not the proximate cause of the injury and is not actionable. The intervening cause is the only proximate cause.

The legal presumption is that men will obey the law and discharge their duties, and this is the only practicable foundation for rational action or expectation.

It is the duty of the master to use ordinary care to furnish reasonably safe instrumentalities with which his servants may perform their work, and a reasonably safe place in which they may render their service. But this duty has its legal and rational limits.

The duty of construction and provision is the master's. The duty of operation and of protection from negligent use is the servant's.

The duty of caring for the safety of a place or of machinery in cases, in which the work which the servants are employed to do necessarily changes the character of the place or of the machinery as to safety, as the work progresses, is the duty of the servants to whom the work is intrusted, and it is not the duty of the master.

Where the work which the servants are employed to perform is to make a reasonably safe place dangerous, or an obviously dangerous place safe, the duty to care for the safety of the place is the servant's and not the master's.

A bridge company so constructed falsework for the rebuilding of a bridge and rails parallel to and outside the bridge for a traveler, which carried blocks and tackle and other machinery, that there was a space of nine feet wide between the traveler runs and stringers on the sides of the bridge. Loose planks 12 feet apart extended from the stringers to these rails. The foreman of the plaintiff's gang ordered him to cross from one of the traveler runs to the stringer and hitch the runner of the tackle to some iron chords. He did so, and started back across the open space upon a plank but, before he had crossed, the foreman gave to the man, who operated the blocks and tackle by means of an engine, a signal to raise the load rapidly, and as it rose it swung against the plaintiff and the plank and knocked them to the ice below. The company furnished materials sufficient to floor the place and to make a snub line.

The American Bridge Company, the defendant below, complains of a judgment which Edward M. Seeds recovered against it for an injury he sustained while he was in its employment. The bridge company was engaged in removing the old railroad bridge and in constructing a new bridge across the Missouri river at Atchison. Piles had been driven into the bed of the river and falsework had been erected upon these piles to support the railroad, while the work was in progress, and also to hold the machinery requisite to accomplish the undertaking. On each side of the old bridge and of the falsework which supported the railroad during the progress of the work, and about 10 feet distant from the middle line of the railroad, a line of stringers 16 inches wide was placed properly supported, and 9 feet farther distant from the middle line of the railroad a line of rails was located and sustained. This line of rails and its support were termed in the testimony the 'traveler run.' It is customary in the construction of such work to erect the traveler runs within 2 feet of the lines of stringers, so that the workmen may step from one line to the other, but, on account of the width of the bridge at the draw, the runs in this instance were constructed about 9 feet distant from the stringers. This space of 9 feet was bridge by caps about 18 feet apart and by loose planks 10 or 12 feet apart. Planks, boards, nails, and bolts in sufficient quantities to have covered this space with a secure floor had been furnished by the defendant, but they had not been used for this purpose. Upon wheels upon the two traveler runs stood a structure called a 'traveler' which was 28 feet long, 38 feet wide at the base, 30 feet wide at the top, and 54 feet high. As the work progressed this structure was drawn along the rails and was used to support the men and the machinery required to do the work of removing the old and placing the new materials. Attached to a crosspiece in the top of this traveler were blocks and tackle by means of which heavy weights might be raised and lowered. The rope which constituted the tackle-fall extended from the blocks a distance of 150 or 200 feet and was there coiled about a spool or niggerhead, which was revolved by an engine. The rope or the runner attached to the lower block ended in a chain and hook which were used to hitch onto material which the workmen desired to raise and move. The engineer and the man in charge of the niggerhead were able by these devices to control the time when, and the speed with which, such material should be raised or lowered in response to the signals of the foreman. The men engaged in the work comprised several gangs in charge of several foremen, respectively. The parts of the work which these gangs should do were assigned to their foremen by a general superintendent, who was himself subject to the directions of the superintendent of the district, which comprised several states. The gang of which the plaintiff was a member was removing the materials of the old bridge on its north side by the use of the traveler and the machinery therein. The plaintiff was an experienced bridge builder and had been employed upon this bridge for about 10 days. He knew that the traveler run and the stringer were about 30 feet above the ice in the river below, and that the space been them was bridged by the caps and by the occasional loose planks and by these alone. At the time of the accident two iron chords which were about 16 feet long and which weighed about 1,000 pounds, lay near the foot of the traveler. The west ends of these chords rested on the stringer, and their east ends on the bridge. The foreman was endeavoring to raise them and put them on a car by means of the blocks and tackle. Another workman had wrapped the chain of the runner around the chords and hooked it, but, when the engine and the niggerhead commenced to pull on the tackle-fall, the chain became unhitched. Just then the plaintiff came down from the traveler to its run and the foreman of his gang said to him: 'Go there and hook that chain, and don't be in such a damned hurry to get away. You men are in too damned big a hurry to get away from the work. Stay there until I tell you to leave. That's what I am here for. ' One of the loose planks extended from the traveler run to the stringer a step or two west of the west ends of the chords. The plaintiff walked across to the stringer upon this plank; thence along the stringer to about the middle of the chords, where he wrapped the chain around the chords, hooked it, and waited until he saw that it would not become unhitched. His foreman stood 4 or 5 feet higher than he did, and 5 or 10 feet southeast of him, where the man at the niggerhead could see his signals. There were other signals which meant that the runner should be drawn up slowly and steadily, and there was a signal called the 'highball,' which signified that the load should be raised as rapidly as possible. The point at which the runner was fastened to the chords was about 12 feet farther east than the point of the attachment of the upper block to the cross-piece in the top of the traveler, so that as the load was raised it necessarily swung to the west at least 12 feet. A snub line in a line attached at one end to a load that is swinging or that may swing while it is held by the operator at the other end or wrapped about some fixed object by him, and it is used to prevent or control the swing of the load. The defendant had furnished suitable rope in ample quantity for such a line, but none was used upon these chords. As soon as the plaintiff saw that his hitch would hold, he walked back west along the stringer to the plank and upon the latter for the purpose of returning to the traveler run. As soon as he left the hitch the foreman gave the signal called the highball, and the man at the niggerhead raised the chords as rapidly as the machinery would permit, the load swung west, and...

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