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United States Supreme Court

79 U.S. 369

Shoemaker  v.  Kingsbury

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of Kansas.

Suit for damages for personal injuries happening on a ran car; the case being thus:

In 1867, Shoemaker and another were contractors for building the Eastern Division of the Union Pacific Railway in Kansas; and in October of that year they ran a construction train over a portion of the road, carrying material for it. To this train was attached what was called a 'caboose car'-a car for the accommodation of the men connected with the train, who had their 'sleeping bunks' in this car, and who stored their tools there, as also the lamps used on the cars. The road was not yet delivered over to the Pacific Railway Company, and the contractors did not wish to carry passengers. Persons, however, were sometimes carried on the caboose car, and sometimes fare had been charged for their passage, but not always.

In this state of things, one Kingsbury, a sheriff in Kansas, and a deputy marshal, wanted to make an arrest on the line of the road, and he applied for passage as far as to a place called Wilson's Creek, asking the conductor to stop the train there, in order that he might make the arrest. He was accordingly taken on the train, and the train stopped until he had made the arrest.

A part of the fare charged was paid by Kingsbury on the cars, and the balance afterwards. The train ran from Ellsworth to Walker's Creek in Kansas. In going towards Walker's Creek the train was made up and ran in the usual way of making up and running railway trains, the engine being in front, with the caboose and flat-cars attached in regular order. But on the return from Walker's Creek, as there was, as yet, no turntable on the road, the usual order for making up such trains was reversed, and both engine and tender were backed over the road, a distance of more than fifty miles: the tender being ahead, the engine next, the caboose and other cars attached, and following in regular order. When about three miles from Ellsworth, on this return trip, both the engine and tender were thrown from the track and upset. At the time this accident occurred, Kingsbury was riding in the caboose car with the conductor of the train, and either jumped out or was thrown out, which of the two did not exactly appear. Whichever of the two things was true he was hurt, and for the injuries which he received he brought the action below.

The accident was occasioned by the engine running against a young ox, which leaped on to the track about twenty feet in front of the advancing train, from grass or weeds five or six feet high, growing on the sides of the road. The train was running at its usual rate of speed. The accident occurred just after dark; but it was a moonlight night, and the engineer testified that he could have seen an animal two hundred yards distant on the track; that the animal was only about twenty feet from the engine when first seen. He continued his testimony thus:

'As soon as I saw the animal I shut off the steam, and seized the lever to reverse the engine, and had it about half over when the engine went off the track. Something struck me on the head and I did not know anything more. I was injured. I did what I thought was best to be done to stop the train. The whistle lever was in the top of the cab. I did not whistle for brakes. I had no time to do so after I saw the animal and before the engine went off the track. The train could have been stopped in about one hundred and fifty yards. When danger appears, the first thing to be done is to reverse the engine and then sound the whistle for brakes. Both could not be done at the same time. In order to reverse and blow the whistle two motions are necessary-first, to cut off the steam, and then take hold of the lever to throttle valve and move it over. It takes both hands to reverse. The whistle is sounded by a lever in the top of the cab. Brakemen would know, by shutting off steam and reversing, that something was the matter. It would take about ten seconds to do all this. I did it as quick as I could. I could have done nothing more than I did do.'

There was no fence on the sides of the road. The plaintiff had been several times before over the road and knew its condition, and the manner in which the trains were made up and run.

The court, among other instructions, gave the following as a fifth to the jury, to which the defendants excepted:

'When it is proved that the car was thrown from the track, and the plaintiff injured, it is incumbent on the defendants to prove that the agents and servants in charge of the train were persons of competent skill, OF GOOD HABITS, and in every respect qualified and suitably prepared for the business in which they were engaged, AND that they acted on this occasion with reasonable skill, and with the utmost prudence and caution; and if the disaster in question was occasioned by the least negligence, or want of skill or prudence on their part, then the defendants are liable in this action.'

There was no evidence in the case in relation to the skill, habits, or qualifications of the agents and servants of the defendants, except what arose from the fact that the engineer had been employed on a railroad about four years, and had been engineer for more than two years, and that the fireman had been on a railroad for about eighteen months.

Verdict and judgment having gone for the plaintiff, the defendants brought the case here on error.

Messrs. A. P. Usher and William T. Otto, for the plaintiffs in error:

Even if these two defendants, contractors only for building the Union Pacific Railroad, had been general carriers of passengers for hire-and 'common carriers' of freight and baggage had been, in short, the Union Pacific Railroad Company itself-and offering, like railroad companies generally, to carry everybody who applied to them to be carried, and all freight and baggage offered-the first part of the instruction-the part italicized and ending with the words, 'were engaged'-would have been erroneous. The instruction must be taken in reference to the facts of this case. The question was one of foresight, care, and skill. None other can arise in the case even of general carriers of passengers. Their obligation is distinguished from that of 'common carriers' or general carriers of goods for hire. This distinction is universally received, [1] and the question is always one as to the application of this rule under the special sort of carriage, as whether by horse coaches or rail cars, sailing vessels or steamers; the case in regard to all vehicles impelled by steam, being, of course, vastly different, we admit, in application from those impelled by feeble agents.

In Boyce v. Anderson, [2] this court, Marshall, C. J., delivering its judgment, decides 'that the doctrine of common carriers does not apply to the carrying of intelligent beings:'


^1  See 1 Smith's Leading Cases, 6th edition, note to Coggs v. Bernard.

^2  2 Peters, 150.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).