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SEABOARD AIR LINE RAILWAY v. HORTON

January 10, 1916

SEABOARD AIR LINE RAILWAY
v.
HORTON



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney, McReynolds

Author: Pitney

[ 239 U.S. Page 596]

 MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the court.

This action, based upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act (35 Stat. 65, c. 149; 36 Stat. 291, ch. 143), was under consideration on a former occasion, when a judgment in favor of defendant in error was reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings. 233 U.S. 492. There was a new trial, and the resulting judgment in favor

[ 239 U.S. Page 597]

     of Horton, the employe, having been affirmed by the Supreme Court of North Carolina (85 S.E. Rep. 218), the case is brought here again, with numerous assignments of error, of which, however, only a few need be noticed.

Plaintiff was injured while in the employ of defendant in interstate commerce. He was an experienced locomotive engineer, and was so employed when injured. His engine was equipped with a Buckner water gauge, a device attached to the boiler head for the purpose of showing the level of the water in the boiler, and consisting of a brass frame inclosing a glass tube 12 or 14 inches long, and 1/2 inch in diameter, the glass being about 3/8 inch thick. The tube was placed vertically, and was connected with the boiler above and below, so that it received water and steam direct from the boiler and under a pressure of 200 pounds. In order to protect the engineer and fireman from injury in case of the bursting of the tube, a thick piece of plain glass, known as a guard-glass, should have been in position in slots arranged for the purpose in front of the water tube. Plaintiff took charge of the engine in question on July 27 or 28, 1910, and noticed at that time that the guard-glass was missing. He reported this to a round-house foreman, to whom such report should properly be made, and asked for a new guard-glass. The foreman replied that he had none in stock, but would send for one, and that plaintiff in the meantime should run the engine without one. He did so for about a week, and until August 4, when the water tube exploded, and the flying glass struck him in the face, causing the injuries upon which the action was grounded.

The principal insistence of defendant (plaintiff in error) is that upon all the evidence plaintiff, as a matter of law, assumed the risk of injury arising from the absence of the guard-glass. The rule applicable to the situation was expressed by this court upon the former review of the case, in the following terms (233 U.S. 504): "When the

[ 239 U.S. Page 598]

     employe does know of the defect [arising from the employer's negligence], and appreciates the risk that is attributable to it, then if he continues in the employment, without objection, or without obtaining from the employer or his representative an assurance that the defect will be remedied, the employe assumes the risk, even though it arise out of the master's breach of duty. If, however, there be a promise of reparation, then during such time as may be reasonably required for its performance or until the particular time specified for its performance, the employe relying upon the promise does not assume the risk unless at least the danger be so imminent that no ordinarily prudent man under the circumstances would rely upon such promise."

By motions for non-suit and for dismissal of the action, and by various requests for instructions to the jury, all of which were refused, defendant raised the point that although plaintiff reported the absence of the guard-glass to defendant's foreman and received a promise of repair, yet the danger was so imminent that no ordinarily prudent man under the circumstances would have relied upon the promise, and hence plaintiff, as matter of law, assumed the risk of injury.

But we do not think it can be said as matter of law that the danger was so imminent that no ordinarily prudent man under the circumstances would continue in the employment in reliance upon the promise. It was not the function of the guard-glass to prevent the bursting of the water tube, but only to limit the effect of such an explosion in case it happened to occur. That there was a constant danger that the tube might explode was abundantly proved, and was admitted by plaintiff. But the tube was designed to withstand the pressure of 200 pounds, and ordinarily did so. It ...


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