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June 5, 1916



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

Author: Pitney

[ 241 U.S. Page 470]

 MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the court.

We have here under review a judgment of the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirming a judgment in favor of defendant

[ 241 U.S. Page 471]

     in error in an action based upon the Federal Employers' liability Act of April 22, 1908 (c. 149, 35 Stat. 65), for the loss of an eye caused by the breaking of a lubricator glass on a locomotive engine upon which he was at work as engineer in the employ of plaintiff in error. 96 Nebraska, 419.

No question is made but that the cause of action arose in interstate commerce so as to bring the case within the Federal act. The facts upon which the question of liability depends are these: The plaintiff in the action (defendant in error) was an experienced locomotive engineer. At the time of his injury, which occurred at night in the month of November, 1910, he had just oiled his engine, taken it from the round-house, and placed it upon the outgoing track in readiness for his run. The engine was equipped with a Nathan lubricator, an appliance containing oil for the steam cylinders and the air pump, the oil being conducted to and within the parts where needed under steam pressure from the boiler. In order to give the engineer a view of the interior of the apparatus, and thus enable him to see that the oil was dropping, three cylindrical glass tubes were attached, one carrying the oil for each steam cylinder and one for the air pump. Each of these glasses was surrounded with a shield of perforated metal in two parts hinged together and lightly clamped upon the glass tube by means of a spring to hold it in place. When the lubricator was in operation, the tubes were required to sustain the same steam pressure as the boiler. These tubular glasses would sometimes break. This was most liable to occur: (1) when a glass was newly installed and before it had been properly tempered; (2) when it was subjected to a sudden change of temperature, as when steam was admitted to it while cold; and (3) they would after six or seven weeks' use sometimes "wear thin" and break for this reason. The metal shield was designed in part at least to prevent injury to the

[ 241 U.S. Page 472]

     engineer from flying pieces in case the glass should break. This type of lubricator had been in use for over twenty years and had been used upon all defendant's engines down to a time between three and four years prior to the accident. Then a new type known as the Bull's Eye came into use and was recognized as a better appliance because, being unbreakable, it was safer for the engineer, and at the same time obviated the loss of time and delay of trains attributable to breakage of lubricators of the Nathan type; and defendant began to instal Bull's Eye lubricators in place of the older type upon engines already in use and to place them upon all new engines. During the earlier period of the use of the Nathan and before the construction of locomotives of classes Q and R, the engines carried only 140 to 150 pounds boiler pressure, while engines of the classes mentioned carried 190 pounds. An experienced witness called by defendant testified that at the time of the trial (about a year after the accident), approximately 25 per cent. of the engines were still using the Nathan lubricator and 75 per cent. were equipped with the Bull's Eye; that the Bull's Eye was and had been for three or four years recognized as "the proper appliance"; that the Nathan was dangerous to the men, and that the change was being made partly because of this and partly because the breaking of the old style lubricator sometimes delayed trains.

Plaintiff testified that during most of the time for the past 20 years he had operated locomotives equipped with Nathan lubricators having tubular glasses, but not all of these were high-pressure engines. The engine on which he was injured was of Class R, and carried a boiler pressure of 190 pounds. He had operated it for about two months prior to the time of his injury. During his experience of 20 years, lubricator glasses had broken with him on three previous occasions, the last being about three weeks before the occurrence in question. At this

[ 241 U.S. Page 473]

     time he asked that a Bull's Eye be substituted on his engine. He testified that this was not because he considered the old lubricator dangerous, but because he wanted to save time on the road in the event of a breakdown. He also testified that he knew that when a new glass was put into a Nathan lubricator it was liable to burst if the steam was turned on suddenly, or if steam was turned on quickly in cold weather, and that on the occasion in question, following the correct practice, he first partially opened the throttles, admitting the steam to the tubes to warm them, afterwards fully opening the throttles, and that it was about seven minutes after this was done that the explosion occurred.

The trial court submitted the case to the jury with instructions to the effect that the burden of proof was upon plaintiff to show that defendant had carelessly and negligently maintained the shield and spring and glass in the lubricator in a weak and dangerous condition, that the lubricator glass was not of sufficient strength for use upon the engine in question or any other engine carrying 190 pounds of steam, and that this fact was known to defendant, or that its experience with said glass and lubricator had been such that it ought to have known that the same was insufficient and dangerous; and that if they believed from a preponderance ...

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