Toledo, St Co v. Allen

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation48 S.Ct. 215,72 L.Ed. 513,276 U.S. 165
PartiesTOLEDO, ST. L. & W. R. CO. v. ALLEN. No. ___
Decision Date20 February 1928

Messrs. Frank H. Sullivan and James C. Jones, both of St. Louis, Mo., and Walter A. Eversman, of Toledo, Ohio, for petitioner.

Mr. Holland R. Polak, of St. Louis, Mo., for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from page 166 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

October 27, 1922, petitioner's railway system was being operated by a receiver as a common carrier of interstate commerce. Respondent was a car checker in the service of the receiver, and, while employed in such commerce in petitioner's railroad yard at Madison, Ill., he was struck and injured by a shunted car. He brought this action in the circuit court of St. Louis, Missouri, claiming Damages under the Employers' Liability Act. U. S. C. tit. 45. c. 2, § 51 (45 U.S.C.A. § 51; Comp. St. § 8657). The amended petition alleged that plaintiff's injuries were caused by the defendant's failure to maintain an adequate space between the tracks in the yard and by the negligent failure of other employees to warn him of the approach of the car. After the suit was commenced, the receiver was discharged and the railroad was returned to petitioner. The latter assumed the obligations of the receiver and was substituted for him as defendant. There was a verdict and judgment for plaintiff. The defendant, alleging numerous grounds, moved for a new trial. It was denied. The case was taken to the Supreme Court, where the judgment was affirmed. Allen v. Ross, 292 S. W. 732. This court granted a writ of certiorari. 273 U. S. 688, 47 S. Ct. 457, 71 L. Ed. 841.

The yard where plaintiff was injured included a lead track and, connected with it, a number of parallel switch tracks, the centers of which were about 12 feet apart. Plaintiff had been regularly employed there as car checker for about 18 months, and his hours were from 11 in the evening to 7 in the morning. His work required him to be in the yard while switching was being done, and to go from place to place to check and list cars that had been switched and arranged on various tracks for the purpose of making up trains. At the time of the accident, he was checking a string of cars that had been placed on track 5 and was between it and track 4, about 125 yards from the lead. A switching crew was at work in the yard. The engine was on the lead attached to from 20 to 25 cars that were between it and switch 4. Two cinder cars were detached from the end, while the string of cars was being pushed by the engine. They were shunted by means of the switch to track 4, and by their own momentum moved to the place where plaintiff was struck. The yard was not artificially lighted. It was an ordinary starlight night, without moon. The shunted cars moved at moderate speed-4 to 6 miles per hour-and made noise enough to be heard at a distance of one or two car lengths. They were unlighted and unattended and no person warned plaintiff of their approach.

The act of Congress under which plaintiff seeks recovery took possession of the field of liability of carriers by railway for injuries sustained by their employees while engaged in interstate commerce, and superseded state laws upon that subject. Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U. S. 1, 55, 32 S. Ct. 169, 56 L. Ed. 327, 38 L. R. A. (N. S.) 44. This case is governed by that act and the principles of the common law as applied in the courts of the United States. The plaintiff cannot recover in the absence of negligence on the part of defendant. Seaboard Air Line v. Horton, 233 U. S. 492, 502, 34 S. Ct. 635, 58 L. Ed. 1062, L. R. A. 1915C, 1, Ann. Cas. 1915B, 475. And, except as specified in section 4 of the act (45 USCA § 54; Comp. St. § 8660), the employee assumes the ordinary risks of his employment, and, when obvious or fully known and appreciated by him, the extraordinary risks and those due to negligence of his employer and fellow employees. Boldt v. Pennsylvania R. R. Co., 245 U. S. 441, 445, 38 S. Ct. 139, 62 L. Ed. 385; Ches. & Ohio Ry. v. Nixon, 271 U. S. 218, 46 S. Ct. 495, 70 L. Ed. 914. If, upon an examination of the record, it is found that as a matter of law the evidence is not sufficient to sustain the essential findings of fact, the judgment will be reversed. C. M. & St. P. Ry. Co. v. Coogan, 271 U. S. 472, 474, 46 S. Ct. 564, 70 L. Ed. 1041.

The court authorized the jury to find defendant guilty of negligence if the space between the tracks was found to be so narrow that when track 5 was occupied plaintiff was in danger of being struck by cars moving on track 4. It was shown, as stated by the Supreme Court, that the clearance between the car that plaintiff was checking on track 5 and the moving cars on track 4 was about 2 feet and 9 inches without considering the grab-irons on the cinder cars which projected 4 1/2 inches from each corner. While this space was sufficient to enable plaintiff to keep out of the way of the moving cars, the danger attending his work would have been lessened if the distance between the tracks had been greater. The work of checking cars in a yard at night where switching is being done is necessarily attended by much danger. But fault or negligence may not be inferred from the mere existence of danger or from the fact that plaintiff was struck and injured by the moving car. Defendant did not owe to plaintiff as high a degree of care as that due from carriers to their passengers or others coming on their premises for the transaction of business. The reason for the distinction is that plain- tiff's knowledge of the situation and the dangers existing because of the narrow space between the tracks was at least equal to that chargeable against the defendant. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. v. Aeby, 275 U. S. 426, 48 S. Ct. 177, 72 L. Ed. 351. The rule of law which holds the employer to ordinary care to provide his employees a reasonably safe place in which to work did not impose upon defendant an obligation to adopt or maintain any particular standard for the spacing or construction of its tracks and yards. Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Co. v. Groeger, 266 U. S. 521, 529, 45 S. Ct. 169, 69 L. Ed. 419. Carriers, like other employers, have much freedom of choice in providing facilities and places for the use of their employees. Courts will not prescribe the space to be maintained between tracks in switching yards, nor leave such engineering questions to the uncertain and varying opinions of juries. Tuttle v. Detroit, G. H. & M. R. Co., 122 U. S. 189, 194, 7 S. Ct. 1166, 30 L. Ed. 1114; Randall v. Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Co., 109 U. S. 478, 482, 3 S. Ct. 322, 27 L. Ed. 1003; Washington, etc., Railroad Co. v. McDade, 135 U. S. 554, 570, 10 S. Ct. 1044, 34 L. Ed. 235. Having regard to plaintiff's knowledge of the situation, it is clear that the evidence when taken most favorably to him is not sufficient to warrant a finding that defendant failed in any duty owed him in respect of the space between the tracks. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. v. Aeby, supra. The court erred in submitting that question to the jury.

And the court authorized the jury to find defendant negligent in failing to cause the engine bell to be rung and in sending the cars along track 4 without a light and unattended. The opinion below declares that the starting or running of the switch engine without ringing a bell or blowing a whistle was evidence of negligence, and that if, according to the practice, cars could be shunted dangerously near to the place where plaintiff was working, without any warning to him or "knowledge of such custom or practice on his part," the system of doing the work...

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