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BALTIMORE & POTOMAC R. CO. V. MACKEY, 157 U. S. 72 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Baltimore & Potomac R. Co. v. Mackey, 157 U.S. 72 (1895)

Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Company v. Mackey

No. 84

Argued November 19-20, 1894

Decided March 4, 1895

157 U.S. 72


Where the evidence is conflicting, and no reasonable or proper inference can be drawn from it as matter of law, the case should be left to the jury. Knowledge of a defect in a car brake cannot be imputed to the employee charged with keeping it in order when he has had no opportunity to see it.

When an instruction to the jury embodies several propositions of law, to some of which there are no objections, the party objecting must point out specifically to the trial court the part to which he objects in order to avail himself of the objection.

Ambiguous or too forcible expressions in a charge may be explained or qualified by other parts of it, and if the charge does not, as a whole, work injustice to the party objecting, the use of such expressions will not be cause for granting a new trial.

A railroad company, receiving the cars of other companies to be hauled in its trains, is bound to inspect such cars before putting them in its trains, and is responsible to its employees for injuries inflicted upon them in consequence of defects in such cars which might have been discovered by a reasonable inspection before admitting them to a train.

In an action by an executor of a deceased person against a railroad company chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 157 U. S. 73

to recover damages for the killing of the intestate, an employee of the company, brought under the Act of February 17, 1885, c. 126, 23 Stat. 307, which provides that

"the damages recovered in such action shall not be appropriated to the payment of the debts or liabilities of such deceased person, but shall inure to the benefit of his or her family and be distributed according to the provisions of the statute of distributions,"

it is not error to charge the jury that, in estimating damages, they may take into consideration the age of the deceased, his health and strength, his capacity to earn money as disclosed by the evidence, his family, who they are and what they consist of, and from all the facts and all the circumstances make up their minds how much the family would probably lose by his death.

Pennsylvania Co. v. Roy, 102 U. S. 451, distinguished from this case.

The plaintiff's declaration claimed $10,000. He obtained a judgment in the trial court for $8000. The appellate court affirmed this judgment, and ordered that he recover "as in his declaration claimed." Held that these words did not have the effect of increasing the sum actually recovered in the special term, and that the inaccuracy was not sufficient ground for reversal.

This action was instituted under the provisions of the Act of February 17, 1885, c. 126, 23 Stat. 307, to recover damages from the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Company because of the death of Robert A. Brown, an inspector and repairer of cars in its employ, which resulted from injuries to him caused by his having been crushed between two freight cars of the defendant in the City of Washington on the night of March 17, 1887.

There was evidence before the jury tending to show the following facts:

For about five years prior to his death, Robert A. Brown, the intestate of the defendant in error, was in the employment of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Company as a car inspector. In the evening of March 17, 1887, the night being dark and, in the language of a witness, a "fearful" one, "snowing and the wind blowing very hard," he was on duty in what is called the "Jersey Avenue Freight Yard," in company with his uncle, who was also a car inspector. A fast freight train came in from Baltimore, and upon examination he discovered a defective drawhead (called by railroad men a "bull nose") on one of the cars. The cars were all coupled together, and it was therefore impossible to repair chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 157 U. S. 74

the defective drawhead without the assistance of yardmen. Brown thereupon requested the yardmen to "cut" the train, so that the defective drawhead could be reached and repaired. He and his uncle asked the conductor, Phillips, who had control of the shifting engine, to have that done, saying to him that if he would give them from five to seven minutes, they would repair the car, and that, if not repaired, it would be pulled to pieces. Thereupon the conductor ordered a brakeman, with the yard engine, "to cut the train, and give them a chance to fix it." As soon as the train was cut, Brown and his uncle went to work on the defective car, which was the fifth one from the tender. The cut was between the fourth and fifth car. The deceased took the drawhead out and repaired it. Just as his uncle was about to drop the key in, which holds it together, he felt the cars "going away from him." He immediately came out from under the car, and Robert A. Brown was "crushed in between the cars."

When the train of cars was cut, those attached to the engine were pulled forward, leaving a gap in the train. Notice was not given of any purpose after cutting the train to detach the engine from the four cars it pulled away in order that Brown and his uncle might reach and repair the drawhead. The two cars next to the one to be repaired were heavily loaded with coal. The grade from South Capitol Street to New Jersey Avenue was quite steep. While deceased was engaged in the work of repairing, his back being towards the engine that had been used to draw some of the cars away, so that the inspectors could do their work, the engine was detached from the cars attached to it, and sent off on other duty. The result was that the cars that had been attached to the engine came back down the grade towards the defective car and against Brown and the car he was repairing. An effort was made to stop them by the use of a brake on one of the cars -- a "foreign" car -- but the brake was insufficient for that purpose and was itself out of order and defective.

There was evidence tending to show that car inspectors were not expected or required to repair foreign cars. A car inspector testified:

"There are cars that come into our yards

Page 157 U. S. 75

which are out of repair, and there are cars that come in there from other companies. Our company don't hold us responsible for fixing those cars, because we don't get paid for it. We are instructed not to use our materials unless it was for a broken drawhead, and then we would have to put in another drawhead. Sometimes we do work, and card it to go to other companies. There are a great many cars come in that way, marked 'Defective Brake.'"

This witness also testified upon the question of the defective brake as follows:

"He was a car inspector in the employ of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Company; that Robert A. Brown, the deceased, was the chief car inspector in the Jersey yard; that