Tuttle v. Detroit, G. H. & M. Railway Company/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

122 U.S. 189

Tuttle  v.  Detroit, G. H. & M. Railway Company

We have carefully read the evidence presented by the bill of exceptions, and, although it appears that the curve was a very sharp one at the place where the accident happened, yet we do not think that public policy requires the courts to lay down any rule of law to restrict a railroad company as to the curves it shall use in its freight depots and yards, where the safety of passengers and the public is not involved; much less that it should be left to the varying and uncertain opinions of juries to determine such an engineering question. For analogous cases as to the right of a manufacturer to choose the kind of machinery he will use in his business, see Richards v. Rough, 53 Mich. 213, 18 N. W. Rep. 785; Hayden v. Smithville Manuf'g Co., 29 Conn. 558. The interest of railroad companies themselves is so strongly in favor of easy curves, as a means of facilitating the movement of their cars, that it may well be left to the discretion of their officers and engineers in what manner to construct them for the proper transaction of their business in yards, etc. It must be a very extraordinary case, indeed, in which their discretion in this matter should be interfered with in determining their obligations to their employes. The brakemen and others employed to work in such situations must decide for themselves whether they will encounter the hazards incidental thereto; and, if they decide to do so, they must be content to asume the risks. For the views of this court in a cognate matter, see Randall v. Baltimore & O. R. Co., 109 U.S. 478, 483, 3 Sup. Ct. Rep. 322, where it was said: 'A railroad yard, where trains are made up, necessarily has a great number of tracks and switches close to one another, and any one who enters the service of a railroad company connected with the moving of trains assumes the risk of that condition of things.' It is for those who enter into such employments to exercise all that care and caution which the perils of the business in each case demand. The perils in the present case, arising from the sharpness of the curve, were seen and known. They were not like the defects of unsafe machinery which the employer has neglected to repair, and which his employes have reason to suppose is in proper working condition. Everything was open and visible, and the deceased had only to use his senses and his faculties to avoid the dangers to which he was exposed. One of these dangers was that of the draw-bars slipping and passing each other when the cars were brought together. It was his duty to look out for this and avoid it. The danger existed only on the inside of the curve. This must have been known to him. It will be presumed that, as an experienced brakeman, he did know it; for it is one of those things which happen, in the course of his employment, under such conditions as existed here.

Without attempting, therefore, to give a summary of the evidence, we have no hesitation in saying that the judge was right in holding that the deceased, by voluntarily assuming the risk of remaining on the inside of the draw-bar, brought the injury upon himself, and the judge was right, therefore, in directing a verdict for the defendant. We are led to this conclusion, not only on the ground that the deceased, by his own negligence, contributed to the accident, but on the broader ground, already alluded to, that a person who enters into the service of another in a particular employment assumes the risks incident to such employment. Judge Cooley announces the rule in the following terms: 'The rule is now well settled,' says he, 'that, in general, when a servant, in the execution of his master's business, receives an injury which befalls him from one of the risks incident to the business, he cannot hold the master responsible, but must bear the consequences himself. The reason most generally assigned for this rule is that the servant, when he engages in the employment, does so in view of all the incidental hazards, and that he and his employer, when making their negotiations,-fixing the terms and agreeing upon the compensation that shall be paid to him,-must have contemplated these as having an important bearing upon their stipulations. As the servant then knows that he will be exposed to the incidental risk, 'he must be supposed to have contracted that as between himself and the master, he would run this risk." The author proceeds to show that this is also a a rule of public policy, inasmuch as an opposite doctrine would not only subject employers to unreasonable and often ruinous responsibilities, thereby embarrassing all branches of business, but it would be an encouragement to the servant to omit that diligence and caution which he is in duty bound to exercise on behalf of his master, to protect him against the misconduct and negligence of others in the same service; and in exercising such diligence and caution he would have a better security against injury to himself than any recourse to the master for damae § could afford.

This accurate summary of the law supersedes the necessity of quoting cases, which are referred to by the author and by every recent writer on the same subject. Its application to this case is quite clear. The defendant, as we have seen, had a right to construct its side track with such curves as its engineers deemed expedient and proper; and as to the draw-heads, and the absence of bumpers, the plaintiff herself abandoned all claim founded upon any supposed misconstruction of the cars in relation thereto. Then it was clearly shown to be a not uncommon accident, especially on sharp curves, for the draw-heads of cars to slip by and pass each other. Tuttle, the deceased, entered into the employment of the defendant as a brakeman in the yard in question with a full knowledge (actual or presumed) of all these things,-the form of the side tracks, the construction of the cars, and the hazards incident to the service. Of one of these hazards he was unfortunately the victim. The only conclusion to be reached from these undoubted facts is that he assumed the risks of the business, and his representative has no recourse for damages against the company.

This view of the subject renders it unnecessary to examine the various particular instructions which the plaintiff's counsel requested the court to give to the jury. The only one that need be noticed is the following, namely: 'If the jury find that Tuttle had no notice or knowledge of the fact that the drawheads would pass on a portion of this siding, and that the fact itself would not be noticed or discovered by a careful and prudent man while engaged in coupling cars on said siding, then it cannot be said that he was guilty of contributory negligence, unless it had already come to his knowledge that the draw-heads would pass.' On this point the judge stated in his charge that 'he [the deceased] knew, as he was an experienced man, that draw-bars do slip sometimes, even upon a straight track, as it has been testified to, and the sharper the curve the greater was the danger of their slipping.' In making this statement the judge was fully borne out by the testimony, and there was no evidence to contradict it.

We find no error in the judgment, and it is therefore affirmed.


I dissent from this judgment, and especially the proposition that the railroad company owed no duty to its employes in regard to the sharpness of the curves of the track in the yards in which they are employed.

HARLAN, J., unites in this dissent.


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).