Schoepper v. Hancock Chemical Co.

Decision Date13 July 1897
Citation71 N.W. 1081,113 Mich. 582
CourtMichigan Supreme Court
PartiesSCHOEPPER v. HANCOCK CHEMICAL CO.

Error to circuit court, Houghton county; Jay A. Hubbell, Judge.

Action by Augusta Schoepper, administratrix of the estate of Fred Schoepper, deceased, against the Hancock Chemical Company for the death of intestate. From a judgment in favor of defendant, plaintiff brings error. Reversed.

J. F. Hambitzer and Ball & Ball, for appellant.

A. R Gray (C. R. Brown, of counsel), for appellee.

MONTGOMERY J.

The plaintiff's intestate met his death while in the defendant's employ, and the question involved in this case is whether his death was caused by actionable negligence of the defendant. The defendant is engaged in the manufacture of nitroglycerine in the county of Houghton, and, prior to the injury complained of in this suit, had been engaged in that business for ten or twelve years. The method of manufacturing nitroglycerine at the defendant works is as follows: 1,200 pounds of sulphuric acid is first mixed with 1,650 pounds of nitric acid, after which 1,700 pounds more of sulphuric acid is added, and all is mixed up in a tank called the "agitator." The agitator is an iron tank having about it a water jacket, through which cool water is caused to flow continually while the mixing process is going on, in order to keep down the temperature. After mixing the acids the oil or sweet glycerine, is run in slowly, and cold water kept running through the water jacket, so as to keep the temperature down; otherwise, it is liable to explode during the process of manufacture. It is considered necessary to keep the temperature down to about 80 deg. Fahrenheit. In this manner about 515 to 545 pounds of glycerine are introduced into, and chemically combined with, the quantity of nitric acid above mentioned. After mixing, the compound is allowed to stand and settle from one to two hours. The nitroglycerine, being lighter than the acids, rises to the top as it forms. Only about 70 per cent., or less, of the nitric acid, has combined with the glycerine. About 15 per cent. remains mixed with the glycerine, but not chemically combined, and the remainder passes off in fumes. The sulphuric acid and whatever of the nitric acid is not mixed with the glycerine settles to the bottom of the agitator, being heavier than the nitroglycerine. The sulphuric acid, being heavier than either, is at the bottom. None of the sulphuric acid combines with the glycerine, and does not enter into the composition of nitroglycerine. It is used because of its strong affinity for water, and it absorbs or takes up the water that is formed by chemical action in the combination of the nitric acid with the glycerine. After the mixture has settled, the sulphuric acid is drawn off through a pipe to tanks some distance away, called "settlers." In these settlers the nitroglycerine which becomes mixed with the sulphuric acid rises to the top, and is skimmed off, and washed like the other nitroglycerine, and the sulphuric acid is saved for another process. After the sulphuric acid, or most of it, is drawn out from under the nitroglycerine, the glycerine, together with the nitric acid mingled with it, and whatever of sulphuric acid remains, is drawn through a 2-inch pipe into a tank of water about 5 1/2 feet deep, called the "drowning tank." The specific gravity of nitroglycerine is about 1 6/10, and, with whatever of nitric or sulphuric acid is mixed with it, sinks directly to the bottom of the drowning tank. The drowning tank is not stirred or agitated except by a stream of water running into it from the cold-water jacket, which runs in part of the time while the nitroglycerine is falling into and lies in the drowning tank. The substance that goes into the drowning tank is mainly nitroglycerine, but has mixed with it a quantity of free nitric acid and some sulphuric acid. Immediately after the mixture is dumped into the drowning tank, they commence to draw it off into pails, and carry it to the wash house, about 200 feet distant, where it is washed in two or three waters, and finally in soda water, until the acid is entirely eliminated or neutralized. The bottom of the drowning tank has a slope of 10 inches towards the faucet where the nitroglycerine is drawn out into pails, and also towards the faucet where an attempt was made to draw it out through a hose.

On the 16th of May, 1895, the defendant endeavored to change the method of conveying the nitroglycerine from the drowning tank to the wash house, or vault, as it is called. A rubber hose three-quarters of an inch in diameter was procured, and laid so as to run on a level from a faucet in the drowning tank to the vault, a distance of about 200 feet. The hose had a drop of about 5 or 6 feet in the vault, so as to convey the glycerine into the bucket or other receptacle. Between 9 and 10 o'clock (the superintendent says half past 10) the faucet was opened, and the glycerine started to run. At first, for a few minutes, it ran somewhat freely, but very soon it began to run very slowly, and only drizzled. After trying about 15 minutes to run the glycerine through the hose, it was given up; and, by orders of the superintendent, the faucet at the drowning tank was closed and the nitroglycerine immediately stopped running out of the hose. During this time only one, or, at most, two, pails of the compound had run through the hose. The employ�s were at once set to work carrying the nitroglycerine in pails, as they had done before; but the hose remained attached to the faucet at the drowning tank, and very little, if any, of the nitroglycerine that was in it, ran out. The hose lay in that condition, containing so much of the nitroglycerine as had not run out, until about 20 minutes after 1 o'clock in the...

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