Chicago St Ry Co v. Coogan, 268

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation271 U.S. 472,46 S.Ct. 564,70 L.Ed. 1041
Docket NumberNo. 268,268
PartiesCHICAGO, M. & ST. P. RY. CO. v. COOGAN
Decision Date01 June 1926

Messrs. A. C. Erdall and F. W. Root, both of Minneapolis, Minn., for petitioner.

Messrs. T. D. Sheehan, of St. Paul, Minn., and Lyle Pettijohn, of Blue Earth, Minn., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner is an interstate carrier by railroad. William Coogan came to his death at Farmington, Minn., July 14, 1923, while employed as a brakeman on one of its interstate trains. Respondent brought this action in the district court of Dakota county in that state under the federal Employers' Liability Act, approved April 22, 1908 (35 Stat. 65, c. 149 (Comp. St. §§ 8657-8665)), to recover damages for the benefit of the widow and children of the deceased. At the close of all the evidence, petitioner moved the court to direct a verdict in its favor on the ground, among others, that respondent had failed to prove any actionable negligence on the part of petitioner, and that any verdict for respondent would be based upon speculation and conjecture. The motion was denied, and there was a verdict for respondent. A motion for judgment in favor of petitioner notwithstanding the verdict was overruled. Judgment for respondent was given by the trial court, and, on appeal, it was affirmed in the highest court of the state. 160 Minn. 411, 200 N. W. 477. The case is here on writ of certiorari. Section 237, Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1214).

Petitioner contends that the evidence is not sufficient to sustain a finding that any negligence on its part caused or contributed to cause the death. By the federal Employes' Liability Act, Congress took possession of the field of employers' liability to employees in interstate transportation by rail, and all state laws upon that subject were superseded. Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U. S. 1, 55, 32 S. Ct. 169, 56 L. Ed. 327, 38 L. R. A. (N. S.) 44; Seaboard Air Line v. Horton, 233 U. S. 492, 501, 34 S. Ct. 635, 58 L. Ed. 1062, L. R. A. 1915C, 1, Ann. Cas. 1915B, 475. The rights and obligations of the petitioner depend upon that act and applicable principles of common law as interpreted by the federal courts. The employer is liable for injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence specified in the act and proof of such negligence is essential to recovery. The kind or amount of evidence required to establish it is not subject to the control of the several states. This court will examine the record, and if it is found that, as a matter of law, the evidence is not sufficient to sustain a finding that the carrier's negligence was a cause of the death, judgment against the carrier will be reversed. St. L., Iron M. & S. Ry. v. McWhirter, 229 U. S. 265, 277, 33 S. Ct. 858, 57 L. Ed. 1179; New Orleans & N. E. R. R. Co. v. Harris, 247 U. S. 367, 371, 38 S. Ct. 535, 62 L. Ed. 1167; New Orleans & N. E. R. R. Co. v. Scarlet, 249 U. S. 528, 39 S. Ct. 369, 63 L. Ed. 752.

Petitioner's train 92 was made up at the Farmington yard by a switch crew shortly after 7 o'clock in the morning. Deceased was the rear brakeman of the road crew which was to take the train to Austin. He was killed before the train was ready to start. There was no eyewitness, and the case depends on circumstantial evidence. The tracks in the yard run east and west. The most northerly is the main line track, and, commencing with that one, the others are numbered consecutively 1, 2, 3, etc. Cars were taken from other tracks and put upon track 1 to make up the train. The caboose was kicked-that is detached from the engine in motion and sent by momentum-east to a place where it was stopped by deceased, who road and controlled it by hand brake. Two cars were in like manner put upon that track. They were controlled by a brakeman of the switch crew at the hand brake on the east car, which coupled automatically to the caboose. Deceased was then standing on the ground beside the caboose. That was the last time he was seen before the accident. Similarly nine or ten more cars were sent east on track 1, and under control of the same brakeman were coupled to the others. And then three or four cars-making up all that were to go in the train-were moved east on that track attached to the engine until they came into contact with the cars already there. Then the engine was stopped to discover whether the coupling made. It was found that it had, and, in order to clear the switch, the engine moved all the cars east about two car lengths-66 to 80 feet. Then the switch engine was detached. Immediately the road engine came and was coupled to the cars. The air hose was coupled between the engine and the first car. But it was found that the air line was open at some other place. The brakeman of the switch crew walked east along the south side of the train and coupled the hose at the east end of the last cut that was set in. After that, and while going toward the rear he found the body of deceased. It was near the west end of the second car from the caboose, and was lying parallel with the track, outside the south rail and on or at the ends of the ties. There were indications on the ground sufficient to show that he had been between the rails of the track, that he had been run over by the east truck of the car next to the caboose, that his left leg and left arm had been crushed between wheel and rail, and that his body had been dragged about 15 feet. There was evidence to support respondent's contention that it was the duty of deceased to couple the air hose, and that prior to the accident all couplings had been made, except that made by the brakeman of the switch crew and the one at the caboose.

The breach of duty relied on is this: About 12 inches south of the south rail of the track, and fastened to the ties by clamps and spikes, there was an air pipe line ex- ...

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