Central Vermont Railway Company v. Mary Theresa White, No. 407

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtLamar
Citation238 U.S. 507,35 S.Ct. 865,59 L.Ed. 1433
Decision Date21 June 1915
Docket NumberNo. 407
PartiesCENTRAL VERMONT RAILWAY COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. MARY THERESA WHITE, Administratrix of the Estate of Enoch L. White

238 U.S. 507
35 S.Ct. 865
59 L.Ed. 1433
CENTRAL VERMONT RAILWAY COMPANY, Plff. in Err.,

v.

MARY THERESA WHITE, Administratrix of the Estate of Enoch L. White.

No. 407.
Argued April 23, 1915.
Decided June 21, 1915.

Page 508

Mr. J. W. Redmond for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Warren R. Austin for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Lamar delivered the opinion of the court:

1. On January 12, 1912, Enoch L. White was killed in a rear end collision while employed as brakeman on the Vermont Central, an interstate railway. His administratrix sued the company, in a Vermont court, for 'the benefit of the widow and next of kin, minor children.' The jury returned a verdict for $7,168. The judgment thereon was affirmed by the supreme court of the state (87 Vt. 330, 89 Atl. 618), and the case was brought here on a record containing so many assignments, covering 18

Page 509

printed pages, as to make it proper to repeat the ruling in Phillips & C. Constr. Co. v. Seymour, 91 U. S. 648, 23 L. ed. 342, that the 'practice of filing a large number of assignments cannot be approved. It perverts the purpose sought to be subserved by the rule requiring any assignments.' 'It points to nothing and thwarts the purpose of the rule' (Chicago G. W. R. Co. v. McDonough, 88 C. C. A. 517, 161 Fed. 659), which was intended to present to the court a clear and concise statement of material points on which the plaintiff in error intends to rely. Some of the assignments in the present case relate to matters of pleading; others to the admissibility of evidence, to the sufficiency of exceptions, and to various rulings of the trial court which involve no construction of the employers' liability act, and which, therefore, cannot be considered on writ of error from a state court. Seaboard Air Line R. Co. v. Duvall, 225 U. S. 477, 486, 56 L. ed. 1171, 1175, 32 Sup. Ct. Rep. 790.

2. We shall therefore only consider those assignments, discussed in the brief, which raise a Federal question. Among them is the contention that the court failed to direct a verdict for the defendant because the proof failed to show negligence of the company, or to prove the facts necessary to establish liability under the Federal law. Southern P. Co. v. Schuyler, 227 U. S. 601, 57 L. ed. 662, 43 L.R.A.(N.S.) 901, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 277; North Carolina R. Co. v. Zachary, 232 U. S. 248, 58 L. ed. 591, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 305, Ann. Cas. 1914C, 159.

The evidence showed that on the night of January 1st, 1912, Enoch L. White was employed by the Central Vermont Railway Company as brakeman on extra freight train No. 401. It had passed several miles north of Bethel, Vermont, and was proceeding up grade at a low rate of speed. White and the other employees thereon had no notice that it was followed by a faster freight train (No. 708), which, at Bethel, had received a 'clearance card' indicating that the track ahead was clear and that it might proceed. The engine, pulling train No. 708, had a leaking cylinder, from which steam escaped in such

Page 510

quantities as to make it impossible for the engineer to see the tail lights of the train on which White was employed. The result was that the faster train (708) ran into the slower train (401) and in the collision White was killed. The evidence was amply sufficient to sustain a finding that the death of White was due to the fault of the agents of the railway company.

3. Complaint is made because the court failed to instruct the jury as to the law respecting the assumption of risks. But there was not only no request to charge on that subject, but there is no evidence that White knew of the negligence of the agent in giving a 'clearance card' or of the leaking cylinder which obscured the vision of the engineer. He did not assume the risk arising from unknown defects in engines, machinery, or appliances, while the statute abolishes the fellow-servant rule. 35 Stat. at L. 65, chap. 149, § 2, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8658. Under the facts there was, therefore, no error in failing to charge the jury on the subject of assumption of risks. Southern R. Co. v. Gadd, 233 U. S. 572, 58 L. ed. 1099, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 696; Gila Valley, G. & N. R. Co. v. Hall, 232 U. S. 102, 58 L. ed. 524, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 229; Seaboard Air Line R. Co. v. Horton, 233 U. S. 492, 504, 58 L. ed. 1062, 1070, L.R.A.1915C, 1, 34 Sup. Ct. Rep. 635.

4. The defendant, however, insisted that White knew his train was behind time and running at a low rate of speed. The company contended that, in view of these circumstances, it was his duty, under the rules, to put out lighted fuses and torpedoes in order to give warning of the presence of train No. 401 on the track. On that theory the company asked the court to charge that the burden was on the administratrix to show that White was not guilty of contributory negligence. In considering that exception the supreme court of Vermont held that the defendant's contention was based on a correct statement of the state rule, but said: 'This case, however, is brought upon an act of Congress . . . [which] supersedes the laws of the state in so far as the latter cover the same field. . . . Consequently the question of the burden of proof respect-

Page 511

ing contributory negligence on the part of the injured employee is to be determined according to the provisions of that act,' citing Seaboard Air Line R. Co. v. Moore, 113 C. C. A. 668, 193 Fed. 1022, s. c. 228 U. S. 434, 57 L. ed. 907, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 580.

In this court the argument was devoted principally to a discussion of this ruling—counsel for the railroad company earnestly insisting that 'the lex fori must determine all questions of evidence, including that of the burden of proof. Whart. Confl. L. 3d ed. § 478b.' It was argued that there is nothing in the Federal statute indicating an intent to change the state rule as to the burden of proof, and it is claimed that because of the court's mistaken construction of the Federal act the railway company has been deprived of a right to which it was entitled under the laws of Vermont.

There can, of course, be no doubt of the general principle that matters respecting the...

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351 practice notes
  • Mississippi Cent R. Co. v. Knight, 24615
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • 30 Marzo 1925
    ...269, 59 L.Ed. 1303; New York Central & Hudson River R. R. Co. v. Carr, 238 U.S. 260, 59 L.Ed. 1298; Central Vermont R. R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 59 L.Ed. 1433; Great Northern Railway Co. v. Otos, 239 U.S. 349, 60 L.Ed. 322; Southern R. R. Co. v. Lloyd, [138 Miss. 625] 239 U.S. 496, 60 ......
  • McCarroll v. Los Angeles County District Council of Carpenters
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 13 Septiembre 1957
    ...rights' is a troublesome question at best as is shown in the very case on which respondent relies. Central Vermont R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 35 S.Ct. 865, 59 L.Ed. 1433. Other cases in this Court point up the impossibility of laying down a precise rule to distinguish 'substance' from '......
  • Francis v. Terminal Railroad Assn., No. 39573.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 8 Abril 1946
    ...Horton, 233 U.S. 492, 58 L. Ed. 1062, 34 S. Ct. 635; T. & P.R. Co. v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33, 60 L. Ed. 874; Central Vermont R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 59 L. Ed. 1433; Southern R. Co. v. Gray, 241 U.S. 333, 60 L. Ed. 1030; New Orleans & N.E.R. Co. v. Harris, 247 U.S. 367, 62 L Ed. 1167. (2......
  • Hill v. Terminal Railroad Ass'n. of St. Louis, No. 40558.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 13 Diciembre 1948
    ...241 U.S. 485; New York L.E. & W.R. Co. v. Winter, 143 U.S. 60; Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Ward, 140 U.S. 76; Central Vermont Ry. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507: Sweet v. Terminal R. Assn., 111 S.W. (2d) 1000. (9) There was evidence that the defendant knew switchmen at times boarded moving cars from......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
351 cases
  • Mississippi Cent R. Co. v. Knight, 24615
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • 30 Marzo 1925
    ...269, 59 L.Ed. 1303; New York Central & Hudson River R. R. Co. v. Carr, 238 U.S. 260, 59 L.Ed. 1298; Central Vermont R. R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 59 L.Ed. 1433; Great Northern Railway Co. v. Otos, 239 U.S. 349, 60 L.Ed. 322; Southern R. R. Co. v. Lloyd, [138 Miss. 625] 239 U.S. 496, 60 ......
  • McCarroll v. Los Angeles County District Council of Carpenters
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 13 Septiembre 1957
    ...rights' is a troublesome question at best as is shown in the very case on which respondent relies. Central Vermont R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 35 S.Ct. 865, 59 L.Ed. 1433. Other cases in this Court point up the impossibility of laying down a precise rule to distinguish 'substance' from '......
  • Francis v. Terminal Railroad Assn., No. 39573.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 8 Abril 1946
    ...Horton, 233 U.S. 492, 58 L. Ed. 1062, 34 S. Ct. 635; T. & P.R. Co. v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33, 60 L. Ed. 874; Central Vermont R. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507, 59 L. Ed. 1433; Southern R. Co. v. Gray, 241 U.S. 333, 60 L. Ed. 1030; New Orleans & N.E.R. Co. v. Harris, 247 U.S. 367, 62 L Ed. 1167. (2......
  • Hill v. Terminal Railroad Ass'n. of St. Louis, No. 40558.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 13 Diciembre 1948
    ...241 U.S. 485; New York L.E. & W.R. Co. v. Winter, 143 U.S. 60; Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Ward, 140 U.S. 76; Central Vermont Ry. Co. v. White, 238 U.S. 507: Sweet v. Terminal R. Assn., 111 S.W. (2d) 1000. (9) There was evidence that the defendant knew switchmen at times boarded moving cars from......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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