Lang v. New York Cent Co, No. 290

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMCKENNA
Citation255 U.S. 455,41 S.Ct. 381,65 L.Ed. 729
PartiesLANG v. NEW YORK CENT. R. CO
Docket NumberNo. 290
Decision Date28 March 1921

255 U.S. 455
41 S.Ct. 381
65 L.Ed. 729
LANG

v.

NEW YORK CENT. R. CO.

No. 290.
Argued March 1, 1921.
Decided March 28, 1921.

Page 456

Mr. Hamilton Ward, of Buffalo, N. Y., for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Maurice C. Spratt, of Buffalo, N. Y., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice MCKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Action for damages laid in the sum of $50,000 for injuries sustained by petitioner's intestate, Oscar G. Lang, while assisting in switching cars at Silver Creek, N. Y. The injuries resulted in death. The Safety Appliance Act (Comp. St. §§ 8605-8612) is invoked as the law of recovery.

There was a verdict for $18,000, upon which judgment was entered. It and the order denying a new trial were affirmed by the Appellate Division, March 5, 1918, by a divided court.

The Court of Appeals reversed the judgments, and directed the complaint to be dismissed, to review which action this certiorari is directed.

In general description the court said:

'In the case before us the defendant [respondent] was engaged in interstate commerce. A car without a drawbar or coupler was standing on the siding. The plaintiff's intestate was a brakeman, and was riding on a second car kicked upon the same siding. A collision occurred, and the deceased was crushed between the car upon which he was riding and the defective car.'

There is no dispute about the facts; there is dispute about the conclusions from them. We may quote, therefore, the statement of the trial court, passing upon the motion for new trial, as sufficient in its representation of the case. It is as follows:

'The defendant had a loaded car loaded with iron which had been placed on a siding at the station at Silver Creek, N. Y. On the same track was also standing another car destined for Farnham, the

Page 457

next station east. At Silver Creek this way freight had orders to leave a couple of cars and to take on the car going to Farnham. The car loaded with iron above referred to was defective. The drawbar, the draft timber, and the coupling apparatus on the westerly end of this car were gone. This car had been on the siding at Silver Creek several days, loaded with iron consigned to a firm at Silver Creek, waiting to be unloaded. Its condition was known to the crew of the way freight generally and to the plaintiff's intestate prior to the accident. In fact, its crippled condition was the subject of conversations between him and the train conductor only shortly before the accident happened. In getting out the car for Farnham, the engine went onto the siding from the westerly end, pulled out a string of six cars, including the Farnham car, then shunted the Farnham car onto an adjoining track, placed two of the other cars they had hauled out onto a third track, and then kicked the other three cars back onto the track where the crippled car stood. Plaintiff's intestate was on one of these three cars for the purpose of setting the brakes, and so placing them on this siding as not to come into contact with the crippled car. He evidently was at the brake on the easterly end of the easterly one of the three cars moving toward the crippled car. His foot was resting on the small platform at the end of the car just below the brake wheel. For some reason he did not stop the three cars moving on this track before the cars came into contact with the crippled car. The cars collided, and owing to the absence of coupler attachment and bumpers on the crippled car intestate's leg was caught between the ends of the two cars, and he was so injured that he died from the injuries so received. It evidently was not the intention of any of the crew to disturb, couple onto, or move the crippled car.'

The statement that 'owing to the absence of the coupler attachment and bumpers on the crippled car intestate's

Page 458

leg was caught between the ends of the two cars' is disputed as a consequence or as element of decision independently of what Lang was to do and did—indeed, it is the dispute in the case. Based on it, however, and the facts recited, the contention of petitioner is that they demonstrate a violation of the Safety Appliance Act, and justify the judgment of the trial court, and its affirmance by the Appellate Division. For this Louisville & Nashville R. R. Co. v. Layton, 243 U. S. 617, 37 Sup. Ct. 456, 61 L. Ed. 931 is cited.

The opposing contention of respondent is that——

'The proximate cause of the accident was the failure of the deceased to stop the cars before they came in collision with the defective car. The absence of the coupler and drawbar was not the proximate cause of the injury, nor was it a concurring cause.'

To support the contention St. Louis & S. F. R. R. Co. v. Conarty, 238 U. S. 243, 35 Sup. Ct. 785, 59 L. Ed. 1290 is adduced.

The Court of Appeals considered the Conarty Case controlling. This petitioner contests, and opposes to it the Layton Case, supra, and contends that the court failed to give significance and effect to the fact that the car in the Conarty Case was out of use, and that while out of use the car upon which Conarty was riding collided with it; whereas, in the case at bar, it is insisted, that the defective car was in use by defendant and was required to be used by the intestate. The trial court made this distinction and expressed the view that the defective car in the case at bar 'must be deemed to have been in use within the meaning of the statute.' The distinction as we shall presently see is not justified. It is insisted upon, however, and to what is considered its determination is added a citation from the Layton Case declaring that the Safety Appliance Act makes 'it unlawful for any carrier engaged in interstate commerce to use on its railroad any car not' equipped as there provided, and, further, 'by this legislation the qualified duty of the common carrier is expanded

Page 459

into an absolute duty in respect to car couplers,' and by an omission of the duty the carrier incurs 'a liability to make compensation to any employee who' is 'injured by it.' But necessarily there must be a causal relation between the fact of delinquency and the fact of injury and so the case declares. Its concluding words are, expressing the condition of liability, 'that carriers are liable to employees in damages whenever the failure to obey these safety appliance laws is the proximate cause of injury to them when engaged in the discharge of duty.' The plaintiff recovered because the case came, it was said, within that interpretation of the statute.

We need not comment further upon the case, nor consider the cases which it cites. There is no doubt of the duty of a carrier under the statute, and its imperative requirement, or of the consequences of its omission. But the inquiry necessarily occurs, to what situation, and when, and to what employees do they apply?

The Court of Appeals was of the view that it was the declaration of the Conarty Case that section 2 of the Safety Appliance Act1 'was intended to provide against the risk of coupling and uncoupling and to obviate the necessity of men going between the ends of cars. It was not to provide a place of safety between colliding cars' and that 'the absence of coupler and drawbar was not a breach of duty toward a servant in that situation.' It further decided that Land was in 'that situation,' and he 'was not one of the persons for whose benefit the Safety Appliance Act was passed.'

Page 460

Two questions are hence presented for solution: (1) Was the Court of Appeals' estimate of the Conarty Case correct? (2) Was it properly applied to Lang's situation?

(1) The court's conclusion that the requirement of the Safety Appliance Act 'was intended to provide against the risk of coupling cars' is the explicit declaration of the Conarty Case. There, after considering the act and the cases in exposition of it, we said:

Nothing in its provisions 'gives any warrant for saying that they are intended to provide a place of safety between colliding cars. On the contrary, they affirmatively show that a principal purpose in their enactment was to obviate 'the necessity for men going between the ends of the cars.' 27 Stat. 531.'

The case was concerned with a collision between a switch engine and a defective freight car resulting in injuries from which death ensued....

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107 practice notes
  • Kimberling v. Wabash Ry. Co., No. 32531.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 30, 1935
    ...and the judgment should be reversed. St. Louis & S.F. Ry. Co. v. Conarty, 238 U.S. 243, 59 L. Ed. 1290, 35 Sup. Ct. 785; Lang v. Ry. Co., 255 U.S. 455, 65 L. Ed. 729, 41 Sup. Ct. 381; Davis v. Wolfe, 263 U.S. 239; Davis v. Hand, 290 Fed. 73, certiorari denied, 263 U.S. 705; Phillips v. Rail......
  • Bishop v. Musick Plating Works, No. 20105.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • March 6, 1928
    ...Strode v. Columbia Box Co., 250 Mo. 695; Morgan v. Hinge Mfg. Co., 120 Mo. App. 590; Railroad v. Conarty, 238 U.S. 243; Lang v. Railroad, 255 U.S. 455; Ferguson v. Coal & Coke Co., 84 S.E. 573. (2) Section 6786, Revised Statutes 1919, does not apply to polishing machines, since, by section ......
  • Koonse v. Mo. Pac. Railroad Co., No. 27609.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • April 5, 1929
    ...bell thereon, such violation was the proximate cause of the injury to deceased. Railway Co. v. Coogan, 271 U.S. 472; Lang v. Railroad Co., 255 U.S. 455; McCalmont v. Railroad, 283 Fed. 736; Warner v. Railway Co., 178 Mo. 125; Strother v. Railway Co., 188 S.W. 1102; Patton v. Railway Co., 17......
  • Burch v. Railway Co., No. 28820.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 24, 1931
    ...312; Degonia v. Railroad, 224 Mo. 564; Manche v. Basket & Box Co., 262 S.W. 1021; Railroad v. Conarty, 23 U.S. 243; Lang v. N.Y. Central, 255 U.S. 455; C.B. & Q. Railroad Co. v. Murray, 277 Pac. 703. (4) When an employee (which Burch was not) uses an instrumentality for a purpose for which ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
107 cases
  • Kimberling v. Wabash Ry. Co., No. 32531.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • July 30, 1935
    ...and the judgment should be reversed. St. Louis & S.F. Ry. Co. v. Conarty, 238 U.S. 243, 59 L. Ed. 1290, 35 Sup. Ct. 785; Lang v. Ry. Co., 255 U.S. 455, 65 L. Ed. 729, 41 Sup. Ct. 381; Davis v. Wolfe, 263 U.S. 239; Davis v. Hand, 290 Fed. 73, certiorari denied, 263 U.S. 705; Phillips v. Rail......
  • Bishop v. Musick Plating Works, No. 20105.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • March 6, 1928
    ...Strode v. Columbia Box Co., 250 Mo. 695; Morgan v. Hinge Mfg. Co., 120 Mo. App. 590; Railroad v. Conarty, 238 U.S. 243; Lang v. Railroad, 255 U.S. 455; Ferguson v. Coal & Coke Co., 84 S.E. 573. (2) Section 6786, Revised Statutes 1919, does not apply to polishing machines, since, by section ......
  • Koonse v. Mo. Pac. Railroad Co., No. 27609.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • April 5, 1929
    ...bell thereon, such violation was the proximate cause of the injury to deceased. Railway Co. v. Coogan, 271 U.S. 472; Lang v. Railroad Co., 255 U.S. 455; McCalmont v. Railroad, 283 Fed. 736; Warner v. Railway Co., 178 Mo. 125; Strother v. Railway Co., 188 S.W. 1102; Patton v. Railway Co., 17......
  • Burch v. Railway Co., No. 28820.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • June 24, 1931
    ...312; Degonia v. Railroad, 224 Mo. 564; Manche v. Basket & Box Co., 262 S.W. 1021; Railroad v. Conarty, 23 U.S. 243; Lang v. N.Y. Central, 255 U.S. 455; C.B. & Q. Railroad Co. v. Murray, 277 Pac. 703. (4) When an employee (which Burch was not) uses an instrumentality for a purpose for which ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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