MYERS V. READING CO.(1947)
Mr. B. Nathaniel Richter, of Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.
Henry R. Heebner, of Philadelphia, Pa., for respondent. [ Myers v. Reading Co. 331 U.S. 477 (1947) ] [331 U.S. 477 , 478]
Mr. Justice BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.
This action for damages alleged to have been caused to the petitioner by the respondent's use, in violation of the Safety Appliance Acts,1 of a railroad freight car not equipped with efficient hand brakes, presents the question whether the evidence at the trial, with the inferences that the jury justifiably could draw from it, was sufficient to support the verdict for the petitioner. We hold that it was.
The action was brought in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by the petitioner, John Myers, against his employer, the Reading Company. He claimed that he received personal injuries caused by the respondent's use in interstate commerce, in its railroad yards at Port Richmond, Philadelphia, of a freight car equipped with a defective hand brake in violation of the Safety Appliance Acts requiring such cars to be equipped with 'efficient hand brakes.'2 At the close of the evidence, respondent moved for a directed verdict. The motion was not granted, and the jury returned a verdict for $5,000 in favor of the petitioner. The respondent then moved to have the verdict set aside and to have judgment entered in its favor. 3 On [331 U.S. 477 , 479] December 28, 1945, this motion was granted and judgment was so entered. D. C., 63 F.Supp. 817. On May 20, 1946, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the judgment, per curiam. 155 F.2d 523. We granted certiorari in order to review this procedure, in a case based upon a violation of the Safety Appliance Acts, in the light of our decision rendered on March 25, 1946, in Lavender v. Kurn, 327 U.S. 645 , subsequent to the trial of this case.
The petitioner testified to the following:
On June 11, 1944, he was working for the respondent as a freight conductor in charge of a crew consisting of an engineer, a fireman and two brakemen. He had been employed by the respondent for six or seven years, rising from the rank of crossing watchman to that of conductor and, for five or six months immediately preceding June 11, he had worked practically every day in the job in which he was engaged when injured. At about nine o'clock that evening his crew moved a string of seven coal cars on to a yard track where the crew coupled those cars to three others. One of the brakemen, new on the job that day, made the coupling and the petitioner directed him 'to tie the hand-brakes on'-that is, to tighten them so as to insure against further movements of the cars on the slightly graded track. The brakeman did this, but before the petitioner left the cars he checked them over and saw that the brakes were not all on, because one brake chain, instead of being wrapped around the shaft, was hanging loose. He climbed up on the brake platform, eight feet above the ground, on the car where the hand brake was [331 U.S. 477 , 480] not set, and tried to set it by turning the brake wheel. While doing this, he carried his signaling lantern on his left arm with his hand through the handle. As to the condition and operation of the brake he testified:
The jury found, in a special verdict, that the brake was not an efficient brake; that its inefficiency contributed to or caused injuries to the petitioner; that the train did not move after the seven shifted cars were coupled to the three standing cars; ad that the petitioner was not thrown from a moving train. 5 The jury thus reached factual conclusions supporting its general verdict for the petitioner, and reducing the legal basis for recovery to the respondent's use of a car not equipped with efficient hand brakes. [331 U.S. 477 , 482] The only question before us is whether there was sufficient probative evidence, with the inferences that the jury could draw from it, to support the verdict for the petitioner.
There was an absolute and unqualified prohibition against the respondent's using or permitting to be used, on its line, any car not equipped with 'efficient hand brakes.'6 In speaking of a like prohibition, imposed by the same Section of the Safety Appliance Acts, against the use of any car not equipped with 'secure hand holds or grab irons,' Mr. Chief Justice Hughes said:
See also, Atlantic City R. Co. v. Parker, 242 U.S. 56, 59 , 70 (automatic couplers required by 27 Stat. 531, 45 U.S. C. 2, 45 U.S.C.A. 2); Great Northern R. Co. v. Otos, 239 U.S. 349, 351 , 125 (couplers); Chicago B. & Q.R. Co. v. United States, 220 U.S. 559, 574 , 575, 615, 616; St. Louis, Iron Mountain & S.R. Co. v. Taylor, 210 U.S. 281, 294 , 295, 620, 621 (couplers and drawbars); Spotts v. Baltimore & O.R. Co., 7 Cir., 102 F.2d 160, 162 (hand brakes).
This simplifies the issue beyond that presented in the ordinary case under the Federal Employers' Liability Act where the plaintiff must establish the negligence of his employer. Here it is not necessary to find negligence. A railroad subject to the Safety Appliance Acts may be found liable if the jury reasonably can infer from the evidence merely that the hand brake which caused the [331 U.S. 477 , 483] injuries was on a car which the railroad was then using on its line, in interstate commerce, and that the brake was not an 'efficient' hand brake. Furthermore-
The inefficiency of the brake in this case may have consisted of its defective condition or its defective functional operation resulting, in either case, in its knocking from the brake platform an experienced railroad man attempting to tighten or set the brake in the customary manner described in his testimony. That testimony was not descriptive of precise mechanical defects in the structure of the brake. It was, however, simple and direct testimony from which a jury reasonably might infer the brake's defectiveness and its inefficiency in the sense necessary to establish a violation of the Safety Appliance Acts. After a brakeman had attempted to set all of the brakes, the chain on this brake still hung loose, indicating that it was not set. When the brake was partially tightened by an experienced freight conductor familiar with that kind of an operation, he found that it differed from the ordinary brake. He found that 'it was kind of stiff, and like a spring-like a shoe kicking back.' While he was holding the wheel, before it was 'pulled all the way on,' it 'kicked back,' he couldn't hold it, and 'down' he went. This resulted in serious injuries to his hand and back. While different conclusions might be possible, the jury, which heard the testimony and saw the petitioner's illustrations of his handling of the brake, reasonably could infer from that evidence that the condition of this brake and its action were not those of an efficient hand brake.
The questions at issue were questions of fact. The jury was entitled to draw inferences from the evidence. From the evidence presented, the jury reasonably could find, as it did in its special verdict, (1) that the brake was not an efficient brake, and (2) that the fact that the brake was not an efficient brake contributed to or caused injury to the petitioner. In the face of this, the trial court erred [331 U.S. 477 , 485] in entering a judgment for the respondent in accordance with the motion for a directed verdict.
The respondent is not subject, as has been suggested, to an absolute liability to its employees comparable to that established by a workmen's compensation law. 7 As an interstate common carrier, however, it is subject to liability for injuries to its employees resulting from its violation of its absolute duty to comply with the Safety Appliance Acts. The evidence here was sufficient to support the verdict for the petitioner, whether tested by the formula used by this Court in Improvement Co. v. Munson, 14 Wall. 442; Slocum v. New York Life Ins. Co., 228 U.S. 364 , Ann.Cas.1914D, 1029; Tennant v. Peoria & P.U.R. Co., 321 U.S. 29 ; or Lavender v. Kurn, supra. The requirement is for probative facts capable of supporting, with reason, the conclusion expressed in the verdict.
See also, Blair v. Baltimore & O.R. Co., 323 U.S. 600 ; Brady v. Southern R. Co., 320 U.S. 476 ; Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Chamberlain, 288 U.S. 333, 343 , 395; Western & A.R. Co. v. Hughes, 278 U.S. 496, 49 S. Ct. 231; and Baltimore & O.R. Co. v. Groeger, 266 U.S. 521, 524 , 170.
We believe that the evidence given at the trial, with the inferences that the jury justifiably could draw from it, was sufficient to support the verdict originally rendered for the petitioner. Accordingly, the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals sustaining the judgment entered for the respondent by the District Court is hereby reversed.
[ Footnote 1 ] 'Sec. 2. * * *, it shall be unlawful for any common carrier subject to the provisions of this Act (of April 14, 1910) to haul, or permit to be hauled or used on its line, any car subject to the provisions of this Act not equipped with appliances provided for in this Act, to wit: All cars must be equipped with secure sill steps and efficient hand brakes; all cars requiring secure ladders and secure running boards shall be equipped with such ladders and running boards, and all cars having ladders shall also be equipped with secure hand holds or grab irons on their roofs at the tops of such ladders: * * *.' (Italics supplied.) 36 Stat. 298, 45 U.S. C. 11, 45 U.S.C.A. 11.
[ Footnote 2 ] See note 1, supra.
[ Footnote 3 ] 'Rule 50. Motion for a Directed Verdit.
[ Footnote 4 ] Further testimony stated that his injuries were due to this fall. Other testimony supported the petitioner's claim, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 35 Stat. 65, 53 Stat. 1404, 45 U.S.C. 51, 45 U. S.C.A. 51, that the respondent was negligent in moving the train while the petitioner was trying to tighten the brake and without any direction from him. This charge, however, was disposed of by the special verdict of the jury, stating that the train did not move, thus strengthening the probative force of the testimony that the petitioner's fall was caused by the stiffness and kickback of the brake.
[ Footnote 5 ] The special verdict was as follows:
[ Footnote 6 ] See note 1, supra.
[ Footnote 7 ] See Griswold v. Gardner, 7 Cir., 155 F.2d 333, 334, 337.