Central R. Co. v. Keegan
160 U.S. 259 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Central R. Co. v. Keegan, 160 U.S. 259 (1895)

Central Railroad Company v. Keegan

No. 373

Submitted December 3, 1894

Decided December 23, 1895

160 U.S. 259

Syllabus

A force of five men, in the night service of a railroad company, was employed in uncoupling from the rear of trains cars which were to be sent elsewhere and in attaching other cars in their places. The force was under the orders of O., who directed G. what cars to uncouple, and K. what cars

Page 160 U. S. 260

to couple. As the train backed down, G. uncoupled a car as directed. K., in walking to the car which was to be attached to the train in its place, caught his foot in a switch and fell across the track. As the train was moving towards him, he called out. The engine was stopped, but the rear car, having been uncoupled by G., continued moving on, and passed over him, inflicting severe injuries. K. sued the railroad company to recover damages for the injuries thus received. Held that K. and O. were fellow servants, and that the railroad company was not responsible for any negligence of O. in not placing himself at the brake of the uncoupled car.

The action below was brought by Keegan to recover damages for personal injuries sustained while acting as brakeman in the employ of the railroad company. Judgment having been rendered upon the verdict of a jury in favor of Keegan, the company sued out a writ of error from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Two circuit judges, sitting as the court, differed in opinion upon questions of law arising, and thereupon certified two questions to this Court. The certificate sets forth the following statement of facts:

"Five men -- O'Brien, Keegan, Lally, Gooley, and Ward -- were on the night of the accident (October 7, 1889) in the service of the Central Railroad of New Jersey and employed in its yard at Jersey City. They comprised what was called the 'night float drill crew,' the duty of such crews being to take cars from the tracks on which they had been left by incoming trains and place them on the floats by which they were transported across the North River to the City of New York. The drill crews, like others employed in the same yard, received their general instructions from Dent, the yardmaster. The men composing such crews were hired by Dent and discharged by him, and he had the general charge of the yard and yardmen, and assigned them to their duties."

"The course of business was as follows: Dent, the yardmaster, gave to O'Brien drill slips -- that is, slips of paper containing the numbers of the cars and the particular tracks leading to the floats on which these cars were to be placed. These float tracks were five in number, and were connected by switches with the other tracks in the yard. The execution of this order required frequent switching of cars from one

Page 160 U. S. 261

set of tracks to another in order to sort out from arriving trains the particular car or cars to be placed on a particular float track. It also required the making up of trains of cars sometimes longer, sometimes shorter; their movement by the engine attached to them, forward or backward, and at varying rates of speed; the braking, coupling, and uncoupling of the cars composing them. Ward was engineer. Lally had his post on some car near the engine in order to transmit the engineer any signals received. He also helped the engineer with coal and water and acted as brakeman. Keegan did the coupling, Gooley, the uncoupling and acted as brakeman, while the turning of the switches was attended to by O'Brien. The direction of all these operations was with O'Brien, who is called in the evidence sometimes 'foreman driller,' sometimes 'conductor of the drill crew.' He was the one to direct what cars should be taken on by the engine and when and where they should be moved to, when the movement should start, and where it should stop, and it was in obedience to his orders that one or other of the men employed in his crew went to one place or another and coupled or uncoupled particular cars. The general management of the operation was with him, and he had control over the persons employed therein."

"On the night of the accident, Keegan, who had been relighting his lantern at the engine, which was then standing still, attached to several cars, walked to the rear end of the train. O'Brien and Gooley were standing there, looking over the drill slip. There were some other cars standing on the same track about forty feet beyond the end of the cars to which the engine was attached. O'Brien told Gooley what cars were to be uncoupled. He then told Keegan to couple the train onto the cars beyond. Keegan took the coupling link of the rear car in his right hand and, having signaled for the train to back slowly, walked towards the detached cars, with the rear end of the last car at his back. Before he reached them, he caught his right foot in the guardrail of a switch, and at once called out to hold up the train. His call was heard, and the engine stopped immediately. Gooley, however,

Page 160 U. S. 262

had already, on O'Brien's order, drawn the pin, and thus uncoupled the cars indicated, so that when the engine pulled up, it did not stop their backward movement. Neither Gooley nor O'Brien were on the cars thus moving backwards, so there was no one to check their motion by applying the brakes, and as a consequence the rear wheel passed over Keegan's leg, producing the injuries complained of."

"There was evidence tending to show that under circumstances such as these, O'Brien, or someone else should have been on the rear car of those moving backward, and the negligence complained of was his ordering defendant in error to couple cars which he had just ordered to be uncoupled from a backwardly moving train to stationary cars beyond them without himself being on the moving cars or seeing that either Gooley or Lally were there to exercise control over their movement."

"The jury, by their verdict, found that O'Brien was negligent."

The questions of law arising from these facts, upon which the court desired instruction for the proper decision of the writ of error, were certified as follows: (1) whether the defendant in error and O'Brien were or were not fellow servants, and (2) whether, from negligence of O'Brien in failing to place himself or some one else at the brake of the backwardly moving cars, the plaintiff in error is responsible.

Page 160 U. S. 263

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