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decided: May 28, 1900.



Author: Mckenna

[ 178 U.S. Page 409]

 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the court.

This action is consolidated of three, brought by plaintiff in error, who was plaintiff in the court below and may be so called

[ 178 U.S. Page 410]

     here, as administratrix of the estates respectively of her husband, Henri Deserant, and her sons Jules Deserant and Henri Deserant, Jr.

The actions were for damages for the deaths of her said intestates by an explosion in a mine owned by defendant, and which explosion was alleged to have been caused by the negligence of plaintiff in error. The action was based upon a statute of New Mexico, which gives an action for damages to the personal representatives of a person whose death is caused by the wrongful act of another, if the person causing the injury would have been liable to an action for damages if death had not ensued.

There were two trials, both by jury, in the District Court of the Territory. The first resulted in a verdict and judgment for plaintiff. They were reversed by the Supreme Court of the Territory. 49 Pac. Rep. 807. The second resulted in a verdict and judgment for defendant. They were affirmed by the Supreme Court of the Territory. 55 Pac. Rep. 290. This writ of error was then sued out.

There is no dispute about the explosion or that the deaths of plaintiff's intestates were caused by it. The dispute is as to the cause of the explosion and the responsibility of defendant for it.

The evidence presents long and elaborate descriptions of the mine, with its "slopes, air shafts, entries, cross cuts, air courses, conduits and break throughs."

We do not think that it is necessary to repeat the descriptions. There is no controversy about them. The issue between the parties is as to the amount and sufficiency of ventilation, its obstruction, the accumulation of explosive gases, their negligent ignition, whether by a fellow-servant of plaintiff's intestates or by a representative of the defendant, making it liable, or whether the explosion was of powder accidentally ignited.

The method of ventilation was by machinery causing a circulation of air through the mine and up to the face of the working places, for the purpose of rendering harmless or expelling the noxious gases.

It is contended by plaintiff that the machinery was insufficient for that purpose, the employes of the defendant were inefficient

[ 178 U.S. Page 411]

     and negligent, and that the air shafts had been permitted to become obstructed, whereby gases accumulated, and stood in the mine and exploded on the 27th of February, 1895, causing the deaths of plaintiff's intestates.

The means of ventilation was a fan at the entrance of the mine, which by its revolutions exhausted the air in the mine, and outside air rushed in and through the passages of the mine, and was directed where desired by means of curtains called "brattices."

It is claimed there were defects in those appliances, whereby there were leaks in the circulation of the air, and besides that water had been allowed to accumulate in the fourth left air course, which so interrupted the quantity of air which passed into room 8 of the fourth left entry that the air did not go to the face of that room, but feebly passed around the brattice at a distance of twelve or fourteen feet, thus permitting the accumulation of a dangerous body of gas, until it passed beyond the danger signals, which may have been put into the room by the fire boss, and that Donahue, the day foreman, and Flick and Kelly, all miners entered the room on the day of the explosion, with naked lamps, and ignited the gas before they saw or had an opportunity to see the danger signal. The employes of the mine consisted of miners, rope riders, mule drivers, track men and "company men." The latter were paid by the day, and worked under the order and immediate supervision of the foreman or pit boss, while the miners were paid by the ton, and were subject to general supervision by the foreman. Besides these, there was a mine superintendent, day foreman or pit boss, night foreman or pit boss, day fire boss and night boss. There was also a mine inspector, who lived in Kansas, and periodically visited the mine and other mines owned by defendant.

It is claimed that the mine foreman and fire bosses knew of the gas in room 8, and that the deceased miners did not know it, nor have means of knowing it.

The mine was inspected day and night respectively by the day and night fire bosses, and it was the duty of each to advise each miner as he came in the condition of his working place, and no miner was permitted into the mine to work until so advised.

[ 178 U.S. Page 412]

     The gas is explosive when mixed with certain proportions of atmospheric air. It is lighter than air, and, therefore, dispelled by a current of air, and this was the means necessary to be employed to disperse the gas. The gas when it explodes moves against the opposing current of air. In other words, expends its force in the direction from which the air comes.

On Sunday night Kilpatrick, the foreman, discovered enough gas in room 8 to crack his safety lamp, but he did not regard it as sufficient to mark the place dangerous.

On Monday morning (the explosion was on Wednesday) the day fire boss found gas in room 8, and put a danger mark above the last cross cut, but did not go back to the room again, although he knew that it was one of the worst rooms in the mine for ...

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