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MYERS v. PITTSBURGH COAL COMPANY

April 6, 1914

MYERS
v.
PITTSBURGH COAL COMPANY



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney; Lurton took no part in the decision of this case

Author: Day

[ 233 U.S. Page 189]

 MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the court.

Annie Myers brought an action in the United States Circuit Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to recover for the death of her husband, John Myers, alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the defendant, the Pittsburgh Coal Company. Under the law of Pennsylvania she might bring this action for the benefit of herself and minor children. A verdict was rendered against the Coal Company; on writ of error the case was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (203 Fed. Rep. 221), and it was brought here on writ of certiorari to that court.

The Circuit Court of Appeals was of the opinion that upon the facts shown the plaintiff had not made out the right to recover and the judgment was reversed without directing a new trial and without sending the case back to the District Court, which had succeeded to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, for that purpose. This was error within the doctrine of Slocum v. New York Life Ins. Co., 228 U.S. 364; Pedersen v. Del., Lack. & West. R.R. Co., 229 U.S. 146, 153. It is further contended that apart from the question just noticed, the Circuit Court of Appeals erred in reversing the judgment of the Circuit Court, as it did, upon the ground that there was not sufficient testimony in the case to show that the deceased came to his death by the negligence charged in the petition. To determine this question involves a brief consideration of the facts in the case.

[ 233 U.S. Page 190]

     John Myers, at the time of his death, was, and for several months had been in the employ of the Coal Company as "snapper" or brakeman in underground operations, taking part in the movement of cars in and about the mine. It appears that on the morning of the injury, a train of empty coal cars, some thirty or forty in number, was being taken down the main entry and then further down a side entry into the mine where the cars were to be subsequently distributed in the work. The manner of operation was that empty cars were hauled by a large electric motor car down the main entry to a side entry where a flying switch was made by which the motor car continued in the main entry beyond the junction of the side entry and the cars ran down the side entry for a considerable distance, then, upon signal from Myers, whose duty it was to ride upon the rear car of the train, by the waving of his cap, which contained a lamp, or by the movement of his head with cap on, the motor car followed on down the entry, the purpose being to overtake the empty cars and distribute them in the mine. Down the side entry about 157 feet from the main entry was an automatic switch, which would turn the current into the trolley wire and permit the motor car to proceed farther into the mine. It was not working properly, and the motorman alighted and turned the switch by hand, returned to the motor car and proceeded. Up to the time the motor car reached the automatic switch Myers had been seen signaling for the motor car to come on. Some distance further there was a branch of the trolley system running into another entry, and the trolley wire passed over the tracks in the side entry at a distance of about five feet seven and one-half inches above the rail, making it necessary for one of ordinary height to remain seated in the car or to stoop down. The roof of the entry was about nine feet above the rail at this point. There was no light at this switch, nor was the wire guarded in any

[ 233 U.S. Page 191]

     way. It also appears that because of ineffective carbons the headlight on the motor car was not burning, and had not been burning for several days; that requisition had been made upon the superintendent of the mine for new carbons but that there were none at the mine. The motorman testified that when the headlight was burning he could see objects on the track clearly at a distance of twenty-five or thirty yards, and that he could stop his car in about thirteen feet. Continuing on from the switch, as we have said, the motor car suddenly ran upon something, was stopped, and it was found that Myers had been run over. He was lying in the middle of the track with his head toward the motor and his cap, upright, with the light still burning, was lying beside the track. Myers' body was badly torn and mangled before the motor car could be stopped. His tongue was found to be moving, but he shortly died from his injuries. It was also shown that Myers was a man of unusual strength and vigor, twenty-nine years of age, and to all appearances in full health and strength shortly before the injury.

The trial court submitted the case to the jury to determine whether the defendant had failed to discharge its duty of using reasonable care to provide a proper and safe place for Myers to work, that is, in failing to provide adequate lights at a dangerous place and permitting the motor car to be operated without the headlight, and also in permitting an exposed live trolley wire to cross the main track at insufficient elevation. An inspection of the record satisfies us that there was testimony enough in the case to carry these questions to the jury under the instructions which were given. The duty of the master to use reasonable diligence to provide a safe place for the employes to work, to carry on the occupation in which they are employed, is too well settled to require much consideration now. This duty is a continuing one and discharged only when the master provides and maintains a place of that

[ 233 U.S. Page 192]

     character. Baltimore & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Mackey, 157 U.S. 72, 87; Union Pacific Ry. Co. v. O'Brien, 161 U.S. 451; Choctaw, Oklahoma &c. R.R. Co. v. McDade, 191 U.S. 64; Kreigh v. Westinghouse & Co., 214 U.S. 249, 255. Under the case made, the jury might well have found that the overhead wire was hung too low for the safety of the men; that there was want of adequate light at thi place, and that it was negligence to run the motor car into such a place without the light which it was its duty to provide. Where workmen are engaged in such mines in occupations more or less hazardous, it is the duty of the master to exercise reasonable care for their safety and not to expose them to injury by use of dangerous appliances or unsafe places to work, when the exercise of due skill and care will make the appliances and places reasonably safe. Choctaw, Oklahoma &c. R.R. Co. v. McDade, supra, 66; Kreigh v. Westinghouse & Co., supra, 256.

The opinion of the Circuit Court of Appeals placed the reversal largely upon the want of definite proof as to the manner in which Myers came to his death, whether by contact with the wire, or, if so, whether that merely disabled him or he was only injured or stunned by the fall, was seized with vertigo or other sudden sickness and fell from the car for that reason, or lost his footing by some unexpected movement of the train or voluntarily got off the car and stumbled and fell upon the track, or became bewildered in the dark and mistakenly supposed himself to be in a place of safety. The court held that all these situations were more or less probable, and, in the absence of some more accurate means of ascertaining the true condition in this regard, no recovery could be had for the wrongful causing of his death, and that an examination of the ...


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