Tuttle v. Detroit, G.H. & M. Ry.
122 U.S. 189 (1887)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Tuttle v. Detroit, G.H. & M. Ry., 122 U.S. 189 (1887)

Tuttle v. Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee Railway

Argued April 4, 1887

Decided May 23, 1887

122 U.S. 189

Syllabus

There is no rule of law to restrict railroad companies as to the curves it shall use in its freight stations and its yards, where the safety of passengers and of the public are not involved.

The engineering question as to the curves proper to be made in the track of a railroad within the freight stations or the yards of the railroad company is not a question to be left to a jury to determine.

Brakemen and other persons employed by a railroad company within the freight stations and the yards of the company, when they accept the employment assume the risks arising from the nature of the curves existing in the track, and the construction of the cars used by the company, and they are bound to exercise the care and caution which the perils of the business demand.

When a servant, in the execution of his master's business, receives an injury which befalls him from one of the risks incident to the business, he cannot hold the master responsible, but must bear the consequences himself.

This was an action for negligence resulting in the death of plaintiff's husband and intestate, Orson Tuttle, a brakeman in the defendant's employment. The declaration contained three counts, the first of which charged that on or about the 30th of October, 1882, the said Tuttle was in the employ of the defendant in the City of Detroit at the "Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee yards," and, in the course of his ordinary employment, was ordered to couple some cars standing on a certain track known as "BootJack Siding;" that said siding is a doublecurve track containing a very sharp curve; that in compliance with the order, he proceeded to couple certain cars on said siding, which were near a certain boat slip, and, while he was endeavoring to couple said cars, the drawheads of the cars failed to meet, and passed each other, allowing the said cars to come so close together that he was

Page 122 U. S. 190

crushed to death; that there were no bumpers nor other device on either of the said cars to prevent them from going together, in case said drawheads failed to meet and passed each other, and that the only device on said cars for the purpose of keeping them apart, and to receive the concussion in coupling, was the drawheads aforesaid. The charge of negligence was that the defendant, disregarding its duty, neglected, in the construction of its said cars, to provide any means to prevent injuring its said employee in case the drawheads of its cars so constructed should fail to meet or pass each other under circumstances set forth; and that the said defendant, in the construction of said "boot jack siding," so called, negligently and unskillfully constructed the same with so sharp a curve that the drawheads of the said cars failed to meet and passed each other, thereby causing the death of the said Orson Tuttle while in the act of coupling said cars as aforesaid without fault or negligence on his part.

The third count was substantially the same as the first. The second count, which charged a defective construction of the car in not supplying it with bumpers or other means of preventing the drawheads from passing each other, was abandoned at the trial. As stated in the brief of the plaintiff's counsel,

"The first and third counts allege that boot jack siding was negligently and unskillfully constructed by the defendant with so sharp a curve that the drawheads of the cars in use by it would pass each other, and cause the cars to crush any one who attempted to make a coupling thereon,"

and this alleged faulty construction of the track was the principal matter of contest on the trial, the plaintiff contending that the defendant was bound, in duty to its workmen and employees, to construct a track that would not expose them to the danger which existed in this case, while the defendant contended and offered evidence to prove that the track was constructed according to the requirements of the situation, a sharp curve being necessary at that place in order to place the cars, when loading, alongside of the dock or slip; that such curves are not uncommon in station yards; that in such conditions the drawheads of cars quite often pass each other

Page 122 U. S. 191

when the cars come together; that this must be presumed to have been well known to Tuttle, the deceased, who was an experienced yardman; that he accepted the employment with a full knowledge of its risks, and must be held to have assumed them; and that it was negligence on his part to place himself in such a situation as to incur the danger and suffer the injury complained of. It appeared by the evidence that when trying to make the coupling, the deceased stood on the inside of the curve where the corners of the cars come in contact when the drawheads pass each other, and will crush a person caught between them, whereas on the outside of the curve they are widely separated and there is no danger. The defendants contended that the position thus taken by Tuttle was contributory negligence on his part. On the other hand, the plaintiff offered evidence tending to show that it was usual for the brakeman, in coupling cars on a curve, to stand on the inside, so as to see the engineer and exchange signals with him for stopping, backing, or going forward. The defendants contended, and offered evidence tending to show, that this was not necessary, as there were always the yardmaster or others standing by and cooperating, by whom the signals could by given.

This statement of the pleadings and of the leading issues raised on the trial is sufficient for properly understanding the question of law presented to the court. Upon the evidence adduced, the judge directed the jury to find a verdict for the defendant, holding that Tuttle wantonly assumed the risk of remaining upon the inside of the drawbar when he should have gone on the other side, and that the defendant ought not to be held in this action.

Page 122 U. S. 194

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