Washington Co v. McDade

Decision Date19 May 1890
Citation34 L.Ed. 235,10 S.Ct. 1044,135 U.S. 554
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This is an action on the case, brought in the supreme court of the District of Columbia by Lewis H. McDade against the Washington & Georgetown Railroad Company, a District corporation, to recover damages for personal injuries sustained while employed by the company, as a blacksmith, in its shops in Georgetown. The injury consisted in the loss of his left arm, which was caught in a belt used to propel a part of the machinery in the company's shop, and thereby so broken and mangled that it had to be amputated near the shoulder immediately after the accident.

The declaration alleges that the defendant is a corporation, and owns and operates a horse railway in the city of Washington and District of Columbia, and certain machinery for the construction and repair of the tracks, cars, and other appliances and implements used in connection therewith; that on the 5th of February, 1883, the plaintiff was in the employ of the defendant, as a blacksmith, and was required by defendant, from time to time, to put and place a certain belt upon a pulley attached to a counter shaft, when the same was in motion, to communicate power and motion from the machin- ery in the machine-shop of the defendant to the fan and drill-press used by plaintiff in the blacksmith shop; that the said machinery and appliances were defective and dangerous, in that there was no loose pulley and lever or shifter for the purpose of putting the belt on, and removing it from, the first-named pulley, but that plaintiff had no notice or knowledge thereof, being unused to, and unskilled in, such machinery and appliances; that the defendant, its servants and agents, knew that the same were defective and dangerous, but failed to notify the plaintiff thereof; that on the 5th of February, 1883, the plaintiff, while ignorant of such defect and danger as aforesaid, was, at the defendant's request, engaged in the act of putting said belt on the first-named pulley, and by reason of such defect and dangerous condition of the machinery, and without any fault or negligence on his part, was caught in or struck by said belt with great force, and his left arm was severed thereby, by means of which he was made very sick, sore, and lame for a long space of time, and suffered great anguish of body and mind, and was crippled and disabled for life from the performance of his usual trade and labor as a blacksmith; that he was put to great expense and trouble in trying to be healed and cured of said would and sickness; and that he paid large sums of money for medical attendance, medicines, and nursng, to his damage the sum of $20,000. The defendant pleaded the general issue, and defended, mainly, upon the ground that the plaintiff was guilty of such contributory negligence as precluded a recovery for the injuries sustained.

The case coming on for trial before the court and a jury, the plaintiff, to maintain the issue on his part, testified, in substance, as follows: He entered the service of the defendant, as a blacksmith, at its shops in Georgetown, on the 1st of May, 1881, and continued there until the time of the accident, on February 5, 1883. When he first went there, he worked at the same forge with a man named Eckrit, who was head blacksmith, but at a different fire; they making and repairing the irons used in the manufacture of street-cars. In the same room, which was about 40 feet square, at a separate forge, a man named Morgan made horseshoe nails. Eckrit left the service of the defendant a few months afterwards, and one Parsons was then employed as an assistant to the plaintiff, who had been made chief blacksmith. The blast of air used at their forge was supplied by a fan propelled by an engine which ran all the machinery in the shops by means of shafts, pulleys, and belts, and was situated in an adjoining room connected with the blacksmith shop by a door in the partition wall. The main shaft was in the engine-room. In the blacksmith shop there was a countershaft, 3 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter, about 12 feet from the ground and 30 inches from the wall, to which motion was communicated by means of a belt running on a fixed pulley attached thereto, and on another fixed pulley on the main-shaft, and passing through a small opening in the partition wall for that purpose. The belt which directly gave motion to the fan was about 3 or 4 inches wide, and ran on a small fixed pulley attached to the fan, and on a fixed pulley about 30 inches in diameter attached to the counter-shaft by means of a screw projecting about an inch and a half above the hub of the pulley. The latter pulley, when the machinery was in motion, revolved about 180 times per minute. Another fan in the blacksmith shop, propelled in like manner, furnished a blast of air for the forge at which Morgan worked; and a drill-press in the same room was propelled by means of a belf running on a pulley affixed thereto, and on a fixed pulley on the counter-shaft. Perhaps, on an average, once a week the engine and a portion of the machinery was run in the evening or at night, after work in the blacksmith shop had ceased for the day; and the belt used to propel the fan was then thrown off the pulley on the counter-shaft sometimes by the plaintiff, but generally by some one else in the employ of the defendant. During the time that Eckrit and the plaintiff were both in the employ of the defendant, Eckrit always put the belt on when it had been taken off, except when it was taken off for repairs; and, whenever such repairs were needed, one Moore, who kept in repair all the belting in the shop, would take it off and put it on again, but never at any other time. After Eckrit left, the plaintiff was directed to take the place of Eckrit at the forge, and all the time until the injury, a periodof 16 or 18 months, he habitually put on the belt whenever he found it off, except when it was taken off for repairs, supposing it to be a part of his duty. The first time it was off after Eckrit left, he called the attention of the engineer, Mr. Kline, to the fact that the belt was off, who said, 'Can't you put it on?' to which plaintiff replied, 'I suppose so,' and then put it on. Hawk, the foreman of the shops, from whom plaintiff received his orders, never gave him any instructions what to do, except that he should take Eckrit's place; and both he and Saylor, the superintendent of the company, often saw the plaintiff put the belt on, but never gave him any instructions about it, or informed him that it was Moore's duty to put the belt on when it had been taken off, and not to do it himself. Plaintiff knew that it was Moore's duty to repair the belts, and put them on the first time after they had been repaired, but never knew that it was Moore's duty to put them on at any other time; and Moore never did put on this belt at any other time.

He further testified that he was 53 years of age, and had been a blacksmith since he was 17, having worked in Washington and Baltimore, the latter city being where he had learned his trade, but that he was ignorant of machinery, never before having been employed in a shop where the blast of air for the forge was created by machinery but once, and in that instance the fan was 200 feet off, and not in the shop and that the belt connected with the fan in the defendant's shop was the only belt he ever put on. In order to put the belt on the large pulley on the countershaft, it was necessary to use a moveable ladder, about 12 feet long, placed against the partition wall. In going up this ladder, his back might touch the shaft, and the face of the pulley was nearer the wall than his own face; and, in placing the belt on the pulley, he would turn his face towards the pulley. On the morning of the accident the plaintiff went to the shop a few minutes before 7 o'clock to commence work Parsons and the engineer, Kline, both being there when he arrived. Observing the belt off, and the machinery in motion, plaintiff ascended the ladder, and attempted to put on the belt, but it came off immediately. He then came down the ladder, and went into the engine-room, saying to Kline that there was something wrong with the belt, as it would not stay on. Kline then ascended the ladder, and attempted to put the belt on, but it immediately came off as before. Kline then came down the ladder, and said to the plaintiff that he would go and slow the engine, and that plaintiff should then put on the belt. He says that he waited a sufficient length of time, as he supposed, for Kline to reach the engine and slow it up, and, after the pulley had slacked somewhat in its revolutions, he again ascended the ladder, and attempted to put the belt on, but it was thrown off towards and against him, and formed a loop, which caught on the set-screw in the hub of the pulley, wound around the counter-shaft, and drew his left arm in between the belt and the counter-shaft, crushing and tearing it to such an extent that it was necessary to amputate it near the shoulder, immediately. When his arm was caught, he screamed, and the engineer immediately stopped the engine. The accident occurred on a Monday morning. On the preceding Friday or Saturday the belt had been repaired by Moore, who placed it on the pulley after it was repaired. It worked all right afterwards, and was still on the pulley when plaintiff quit work on Saturday evening. The plaintiff further testified that he had suffered great physical and mental pain from the accident, having been confined to his room for six weeks, and most of that time to his bed; that his nervous system had been shocked to such an extent that for 18 months thereafter he could not do any work; and that since that time, although better and stronger, he had suffered considerably, and was permanently disabled from working at his trade. He further said that he never had had any experience with machinery, and he did...

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