New York Central Hudson River Railroad Company v. Bernard Carr

Decision Date14 June 1915
Docket NumberNo. 257,257
Citation238 U.S. 260,59 L.Ed. 1298,35 S.Ct. 780
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Maurice C. Spratt, Lester F. Gilbert, and Charles C. Paulding for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Hamilton Ward and John Lewis Smith for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Lamar delivered the opinion of the court:

Carr was a brakeman on a 'pick-up' freight train running from Rochester to Lockport over the lines of the New York Central. On November 18, 1910, some of the cars in this train contained interstate freight. Among those engaged in purely intrastate business were the two cars, at the head of the train and next to the engine, which were to be left at North Tonawanda, New York. On arriving at that point they were uncoupled from the train, pulled by the engine down the track, and then backed into a siding. It was the duty of one brakeman (O'Brien) to uncouple the air hose from the engine, and for the other (Carr) to set the hand brakes in order to prevent the two cars from rolling down upon the main track. O'Brien, having failed to open the gauge to the stopcock, suddenly and negligently 'broke' the air hose. The result was that the sudden escape of air—applied only in cases of emergency—violently turned the wheel handle attached to the brake which Carr at the time was attempting to set. The wrench threw Carr to the ground, and for the injuries thus suffered he brought suit in a state court. If the case was to be governed by the law of New York he was not entitled to recover, since the injury was due to the negligence of O'Brien, a fellow servant. He did recover a verdict under the Federal employers' liability act, and, the judgment thereon having been affirmed (157 App. Div. 941, 142 N. Y. Supp. 1111, 158 App. Div. 891, 143 N. Y. Supp. 1109), the case is here on writ of error to review that ruling.

The railroad company insists that when the two cars were cut out of the train and backed into a siding, they lost their interstate character, so that Carr while working thereon was engaged in intrastate commerce and not entitled to recover under the Federal employers' liability act. The scope of that statute is so broad that it covers a vast field about which there can be no discussion. But owing to the fact that, during the same day, railroad employees often and rapidly pass from one class of employment to another, the courts are constantly called upon to decide those close questions where it is difficult to define the line which divides ...

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