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SANTA FE PACIFIC R. CO. V. HOLMES, 202 U. S. 438 (1906)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Santa Fe Pacific R. Co. v. Holmes, 202 U.S. 438 (1906)

Santa Fe Pacific Railroad Company v. Holmes

No. 235

Argued April 18, 19, 1906

Decided May 21, 1906

202 U.S. 438


The duty of the master to furnish safe places for the employees to work in and safe appliances to work with is a continuing one to be exercised wherever circumstances require it.

While the duty of the master -- in this case a railroad company -- may be, and frequently is, discharged by one exercise, it may recur at any moment in keeping trains in safe relation. A train dispatcher is not relieved, nor does he relieve the company, by the promulgation of an order; he must at all times know and guard against possible changes, and, under the circumstances of this case, held that a collision causing injuries to an engineer was the result of the dispatcher's negligence in failing to take into account and do what a prudent man would have taken into account and done. .

In this case, the dispatcher was the representative of the company to promulgate orders for the running of trains, and not a fellow servant of the engineer.

Action brought in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Ninth Circuit, Southern District of California, by defendant in error, for damages for injuries received by him in a head-on collision of two trains, on one of which he was an engineer. The answer alleged negligence upon the part of defendant in error by disobeying the orders, rules, and regulations of the company, and also alleged that the collision was chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 202 U. S. 439

caused by the negligence of a fellow servant. The action was tried without a jury, and the circuit court found for defendant in error in the amount of $9,000, and entered judgment against the company for that sum. The judgment was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 136 F. 66. The company, being a federal corporation, then sued out this writ of error.

The colliding trains were regular passenger trains, and are denominated in the testimony as train No. 3 and train No. 4, the former being westbound and the latter eastbound. Defendant in error was the engineer on No. 4, or rather one of the engineers, the train being hauled by two engines. He was the engineer of the second engine. Both trains were run on regular schedule or time cards when on time or slightly delayed, No. 4 having the right of track. On the morning of the collision, November 20, 1901, train No. 3 was unusually delayed, and special orders became necessary for the operation of the trains on the Arizona Division. The first order was issued before train No. 4 had left Needles. The order was as follows: "No. 3 eng. 482 has right of track over No. 4 eng. 444 and 452 to Needles, but will run 1 hour 50 minutes late Kingman to Needles." The copy of the order was delivered to train No. 4 before 4:22 A.M., before its departure from Needles, and to No. 3 upon its arrival at Kingman at 4:21 or 4:22 A.M. Train No. 4 ran east to Mellen, a distance of 11.9 miles, where it stopped upon signal. In the meantime the second order (No. 23) was issued by the train dispatcher, train No. 3 having been more delayed in arriving at Kingman than had been expected. This order was delivered to train No. 4 at Mellen. It read as follows: "No. 3 eng. 482 will run two (2) hours late Kingman to Needles." A copy of the order was delivered to No. 3 at Kingman. The effect of these orders and the general rules of the company was that No. 3 was to run according to the time card, except that it was to run two hours late and was to have the right of track over No. 4, the latter to look out for No. 3, and run with reference chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 202 U. S. 440

to its movement as provided for by the special orders in connection with the timetable. The orders and the timetable would have made Franconia the proper place of passing of the trains, No. 3 being due to arrive there at 5:17, No. 4 at 5:06, or eleven minutes ahead of No. 3. Train No. 3 should have left Kingman at 4:25. It left at 4:31, six minutes late. It passed Yucca, however at 4:55 (this is disputed, but upon what evidence we shall presently consider); it should not have passed until 4:57, and it passed Franconia six minutes ahead of time. The operator at Yucca (the only night telegraph office between Kingman and Franconia) at 4:58 or 59 reported to the train dispatcher that No. 3 had passed at 4:55.

No. 4 left Mellen, which was the only night office between Needles and Franconia, between 4:45 and 4:47, and ran 6.8 miles to Powell, arriving there at 5 o'clock. A stop was made of three or four minutes for the purpose of adjusting the flow of oil in the leading locomotive, and then proceeded towards Franconia. In the meantime No. 3 had arrived at Franconia six minutes ahead of the schedule time under the special order for leaving that station. On approaching the station the engineer signaled an inquiry for orders and received by semaphore signal from the operator the reply: "No orders from the train dispatcher." He did not stop at Franconia, and, while the train was going at a speed of from 60 to 70 miles an hour, about 1 1/4 miles from Franconia, it collided with No. 4, which was running from 40 to 50 miles an hour. Both trains were wrecked, the engineer of the leading locomotive of No. 4 and several others were killed, and the defendant in error sustained serious injuries. The operator at Franconia had no orders that morning for either No. 3 or No. 4. But for the collision, No. 4 would have reached and have been placed on the siding at Franconia, notwithstanding the delay at Powell, two or three minutes before No. 3 was due at Franconia. Plaintiff in error's rule No. 385 only requires the train not having the right of chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 202 U. S. 441

track to take a siding and be clear of the main track before the leaving time of the opposing train. Other facts are stated in the opinion.

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