Great Northern Railway Company v. Otos

Decision Date13 December 1915
Docket NumberNo. 429,429
Citation36 S.Ct. 124,239 U.S. 349,60 L.Ed. 322
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. E. C. Lindley, M. L. Countryman, and A. L. Janes for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Tom Davis, Samuel A. Anderson, and Ernest A. Michel for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the court:

This is an action under the safety appliance act and employers' liability act. The plaintiff (defendant in error) was a switch foreman and was breaking up a train that had come into his state from the west. At the moment when he was hurt he had three cars attached to a switching engine; the rear one consigned to Duluth, and to be switched to another track; the next consigned to Minneapolis; both loaded. The automatic coupler on the Minneapolis car was out of order, the pin lifter was missing, other repairs were needed, and there was evidence that it had been marked for repairs and was to be switched to the repair track before going further. In the switching operation the plaintiff, being unable to uncouple the Duluth car from the side where the pin lifter was missing without going between the cars, did so while the cars were moving, and was badly hurt. The jury was instructed that if the injuries 'were due directly to the absence and imperfect working condition of the coupler in question' the defendant would be liable. The plaintiff got a verdict and judgment was ordered for $30,000, which order was affirmed by the supreme court of the state. 128 Minn. 283, 150 N. W. 922.

The defendant argues that the car had been withdrawn from interstate commerce, and that therefore the act of March 2, 1893, chap. 196, § 2, 27 Stat. at L. 531, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8606, does not apply; that if it does apply, the defendant was required by that act and the supplementary act of April 14, 1910, chap. 160, 36 Stat. at L. 298, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8617, to remove the car for repairs, and that its effort to comply with the statutes could not constitute a tort; and that the plaintiff was a person intrusted by it with the details of the removal, and could not make it responsible for the mode in which its duty was carried out; that he might have detached the car while it was at rest. But we are of opinion that the argument cannot prevail.

The car was loaded and in fact was carried to Minneapolis the next day. It had not been withdrawn from interstate commerce, but merely subjected to a delay in carrying it to its destination. At the moment of the accident it was accessory to switching the Duluth car. It does not seem to us to need extended argument to show that the car still was subject to the act of Congress. Delk v. St. Louis & S. F. R. Co. 220 U. § 580, 55 L. ed. 590, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 617. As the safety appliance act governed the case, it imposed an absolute liability upon the carrier. St. Louis, I. M. & S. R. Co. v. Taylor, 210 U. S. 281, 52 L. ed. 1061, 28 Sup....

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