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TEXAS & PACIFIC RY. CO. V. CARLIN, 189 U. S. 354 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Carlin, 189 U.S. 354 (1903)

Texas and Pacific Railway Company v. Carlin

No. 222

Argued March 20, 1903

Decided April 6, 1903

189 U.S. 354


Where it is the special duty of the foreman of a gang repairing a bridge to see that the track is unobstructed when a train is about to cross, although it may be the duty of the men to keep their tools off the track, it is the foreman's duty to supervise them, and if, through his negligence, the track is not left unobstructed and one of the gang is injured, such negligence under the statutes of Texas in that regard is that of a vice-principal, and not of a fellow-servant.

Where the facts in the case are that the workman was injured by being hit by a spike maul which bad been left on the track and which was struck and thrown by the engine, the fact that the foreman himself, who is to some extent an interested witness, testifies that he had looked along the track and saw no obstruction, is not sufficient to take the question of his negligence away from the jury.

The plaintiff in error brings this case here to review the judgment of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, affirming the judgment in the Circuit Court for the Northern District of Texas, entered chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 189 U. S. 355

upon the verdict of a jury in favor of defendant in error on the trial of this action brought by him against the railway company to recover damages for personal injuries. On the trial, it appeared that Carlin, the plaintiff below, was in the employment of the railway company in September, 1898, as a bridge carpenter. On that day, he, with a number of others forming what is termed the bridge gang, of which George Welsh was foreman, was employed in making some repairs on a bridge near the Aledo water tank, not far from Weatherford, Texas. The bridge was over a creek, and was sixty to sixty-five feet long. The force got to work on the bridge about ten minutes after 8 o'clock in the morning under Welsh, the foreman. The surface of the bridge was plain; the ties were about eight inches apart, and there was nothing on top of them except the rails and the guard rails, the rails being of ordinary size, and the guard rails about ten inches from the rails and parallel with them. The guard rails were eight inches wide and stood four inches above the ties, being let down over the ties about two inches, and were of wood. Sometime after the men had been working on the bridge a freight train was seen approaching at the rate of from thirty to forty miles an hour. Within a very few minutes before the train was seen, one of the workmen on the bridge had in his hand what is called a spike maul, used for the purpose of driving spike. The maul was of iron with a handle about three feet long, the hammer being six, eight, or perhaps ten inches in length, and the handle went into the middle of the head, which had a double face. Carver was the man who was using the maul a few minutes before the train came. The maul weighed about ten pounds. At the time Carver was using the maul, he had it out on the bridge with him. A witness for the defendant stated that he had been using the maul on the south side of the bridge for putting up the staging or scaffolding, and when he finished he handed it to someone on the top of the bridge, who handed it to Carver on the north side of the bridge, to spike on a brace. It was used but ten or fifteen minutes before the passage of the train. Carver stated he did not remember where he had put the maul when he had finished using it, but he said chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 189 U. S. 356

he was always careful to put it out of the way so there would be no accident. He had nailed the last piece of timber on the bridge and got down on the ground and was about ten feet from the plaintiff, and had not been there over three or four minutes when the train passed. The witness saw no other spike maul or hammer there that morning than the one which he used, which was the regular spike maul described by the witness, and which he found after the train passed.

The train coming from the west was seen some little distance before it reached the bridge, and the people on the bridge got out of its way, and, as the train passed over the bridge towards the east the plaintiff, who was standing a short distance from the east end of the bridge, was struck by the spike maul on the leg, and was so badly injured that amputation of the leg above the knee was necessary, and was performed. The train on its passage across the bridge struck the spike maul and threw it in the direction that the train was going with such force toward the plaintiff as to effect the injury mentioned, although the train was not seen to strike the maul, nor was the maul seen to strike the plaintiff. All that is known is that the train passed the bridge, and as it passed the maul struck the plaintiff, and the handle was broken close up to the head.

It was customary when workmen were engaged in repairing a bridge for the foreman to see that the bridge was cleared and unobstructed whenever a train was about to pass. It was the duty of the workmen to put their tools out of the way when a train was coming, but it was specially the duty of the foreman to see that the bridge was clear, and "that was his business and that was what he was for." Welsh, the foreman of the bridge gang, testified that he had no recollection of seeing anyone using the spike maul that morning; that he had been around all parts of the bridge, both on top and underneath it, before the train had passed. He says when he saw the train coming he looked up and down the track to see if everything was clear, and did not see anything, and stepped one side when the train was three or four hundred yards from him. He said he had plenty of time if there had been anything on the bridge to have taken it off; that, when a man was using tools and got chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 189 U. S. 357

through with them he was supposed to take care of them and put them out of the way; that the foreman was liable to be anywhere about the bridge at any time, and could not be depended upon to be at any particular place; but if there were men working on top of the bridge it would be their duty to be on the lookout always, as they must expect a train at any time. He also said that he was foreman, and that as bridge foreman he had employed Carlin and had supervision over him, and had power to employ and discharge him as well as the other bridge men who were working there that morning.

The evidence was not disputed that, although it was the business of each workman to see to it that his tools were not in the way of an approaching train, yet that it was particularly the duty of the foreman to see that the bridge was cleared from all obstacles when a train came.

This is in substance the evidence submitted to the jury upon the question of the negligence of the defendant.

The judge charged that the burden of proof was upon the plaintiff to show that the defendant was negligent, and that the plaintiff was injured thereby; that the defendant was bound to exercise ordinary care to furnish a reasonably safe place within which employees could perform their duties; that the foreman of the bridge gang was, under thenary care to furnish a reasonably safe place within which employees could perform their duties; that the foreman of the bridge gang was, under thenary care to furnish a reasonably safe place within which employees could perform their duties; that the foreman of the bridge gang was, under the evidence, the vice principal of the defendant company, and that the negligence of which the defendant was accused consisted in the failure on the part of the foreman of the bridge gang to use ordinary care to remove, or to see and remove, the spike maul before the arrival of the train at the bridge.

The court also charged that, if the jury believed from the evidence that the spike maul was left on the bridge by a fellow servant of the plaintiff, and that, at the time the train approached, the foreman of the bridge gang was the only person upon the bridge, and that he could, by the exercise of ordinary care, have seen the spike maul and removed it from the track and from proximity thereto, and if they believed it was on the track or within proximity thereto, and if the jury believed that it was the duty of the foreman to use such care to see that the track was clear and no obstructions on it, or so near to it as to chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 189 U. S. 358

be struck by a passing train, and if the jury believed that the foreman did not use that care, and that the spike maul was struck by the train and hurled against the plaintiff and caused the injuries, and if the jury believed it was the negligence of the foreman in failing to see and remove the spike maul, and if his negligence in that respect was the direct and proximate cause of the injuries sustained by the plaintiff, then the court charged that the plaintiff was entitled to recover; but that, if the injury was caused by the negligence of a fellow servant, and the foreman in charge of the bridge gang was not guilty of negligence which directly and proximately contributed to the injury of the plaintiff, then the verdict should be for the defendant.

The court further charged that the defendant should not be held responsible for the consequences of an act of negligence which could not reasonably be foreseen, and that it was not actionable negligence to fail to do an act when it would not have been anticipated by a man of ordinary care and prudence that such failure to perform the act would result in injury to anyone.

Various requests to charge were made by counsel for the defendant and refused by the court, not necessary to be here specifically mentioned.

The jury, as stated, found a verdict for the plaintiff.

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