Hayes v. Michigan Central R. Co.
Annotate this Case
111 U.S. 228 (1884)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Hayes v. Michigan Central R. Co., 111 U.S. 228 (1884)
Hayes v. Michigan Central Railroad Company
Argued March 19, 1884
Decided April 7, 1884
111 U.S. 228
A statute authorizing a municipal corporation to require railroad companies to provide protection against injury to persons and property confers plenary power in those respects over the railroads within the corporate limits.
When the line of a railroad runs parallel with and adjacent to a public park which is used as a place of recreation and amusement by the inhabitants of a municipal corporation, and the corporation requests the company to erect a fence between the railroad and the park, it is within the design of a statute conferring power upon the municipal corporation to require railroad companies to protect against injuries to persons.
A grant of a right of way over a tract of land to a railroad company by a municipal corporation by an ordinance which provides that the company shall erect suitable fences on the line of the road and maintain gates at street crossings is not a mere contract, but is an exercise of the right of municipal legislation, and has the force of law within the corporate limits.
If a railroad company which has been duly required by a municipal corporation to erect a fence upon the line of its road within the corporate limits for the purpose of protecting against injury to persons fails to do so and an individual is injured by the engine or cars of the company in consequence, he may maintain an action against the company and recover if he establishes that the accident was reasonably connected with the want of precaution as a cause and that he was not guilty of contributory negligence.
This action was brought by the plaintiff in error to recover damages for personal injuries alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the defendant in error. After the evidence in the cause had been closed, the court directed the jury to return a verdict for the defendant. A bill of exceptions to that ruling embodies all the circumstances material to the case, and presents the question, upon this writ of error, whether there was sufficient evidence to entitle the plaintiff below to have the issues submitted to the determination of the jury.
The defendant, in running its trains into Chicago, used the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad Company under an arrangement between them, and no question is made but that the defendant is to be treated, for the purposes of this case, as the owner as well as occupier of the tracks. The tracks in question are situated for a considerable distance in Chicago, including the place where the injury complained of was received, on the lake shore. They were built in fact at first in the water on piles, a breakwater constructed in the lake protecting them from winds and waves, and on the west or land side the space being filled in with earth a width of about 280 feet to Michigan Avenue, running parallel with the railroad. This space between Michigan Avenue and the railroad tracks is public ground, called Lake Park, on the south end of which is Park Row, a street perpendicular to Michigan Avenue and leading to and across the railroad tracks to be water's edge. Numerous streets, from Twelfth Street north to Randolph Street, intersect Michigan Avenue at right angles about 400 feet apart and open upon the park, but do not cross it. Nothing divides Michigan Avenue from the park, and the two together form one open space to the railroad. The right of way for these tracks was granted to the company by the City of Chicago over public grounds by an ordinance of the common council dated June 14, 1852, the sixth section of which is as follows:
"SEC. 6. The said company shall erect and maintain on the western or inner line of the ground pointed out for its main track on the lake shore, as the same is hereinbefore defined, such suitable walls,
fences, or other sufficient works as will prevent animals from straying upon or obstructing its tracks and secure persons and property from danger, said structure to be of suitable materials and sightly appearance and of such height as the common council may direct, and no change therein shall be made except by mutual consent, provided however that the company shall construct such suitable gates at proper places at the ends of the streets which are now or may hereafter be laid out as may be required by the common council to afford safe access to the lake, and provided also that in case of the construction of an outside harbor, streets may be laid out to approach the same in the manner provided by law, in which case the common council may regulate the speed of locomotives and trains across them."
It was also provided in the ordinance that it should be accepted by the railroad company within ninety days from its passage, and that thereupon a contract under seal should be formally executed on both parts, embodying the provisions of the ordinance and stipulating that the permission, rights, and privileges thereby conferred upon the company should depend upon their performance of its requirements. This contract was duly executed and delivered March 28, 1853.
The work of filling in the open space between the railroad tracks and the natural shoreline was done gradually -- more rapidly after the great fire of October 9, 1871, when the space was used for the deposit of the debris and ruins of buildings -- and the work was completed substantially in the winter of 1877-78. In the meantime, several railroad tracks had been constructed by the railroad company on its right of way, used by itself and four other companies for five years prior to the time of the injury complained of, and trains and locomotives were passing very frequently, almost constantly. The railroad company had also partially filled with stones and earth the space east of its tracks to the breakwater, sufficiently so in some places to enable people to get out to it. This they were accustomed to do for the purpose of fishing and other amusements, crossing the tracks for that purpose. At one point, there was a roadway across the park and the
tracks used by wagons for hauling materials for filling up the space, and a flagman was stationed there. At this point great numbers of people crossed to the breakwater; from two streets the public were also accustomed to cross over the tracks from the park to ferry boats. From Park Row at the south end of the park, running north a short distance, the railroad company, in 1872, had erected on the west line of its right of way a five-board fence, the north end of which, at the time of the injury to the plaintiff, was broken down. The rest of it was in good order. The park was public ground, free to all, and frequented by children and others as a place of resort for recreation, especially on Sundays. Not far from the south end and about opposite the end of the fence was a band house for free open-air concerts.
The plaintiff was a boy between eight and nine years of age, bright and well grown but deaf and dumb. His parents were laboring people, living at the time of the accident about four blocks west of Lake Park. Across the street from where they lived was a vacant lot where children in the neighborhood frequently played. On Sunday afternoon, March 17, 1878, St. Patrick's Day, the plaintiff, in charge of a brother about two years older, went to this vacant lot, with the permission of his father, to play. While playing there, a procession celebrating the day passed by, and the plaintiff, with other boys, but without the observation of his brother, followed the procession to Michigan Avenue at Twelfth Street, just south of Lake Park. He and his companions then returned north to the park, in which they stopped to play. A witness, going north along and on the west side of the tracks, when at a point a considerable distance north of the end of the broken fence, saw a freight train of the defendant coming north; turning round toward it, he saw the plaintiff on the tracks south of him, but north of the end of the fence; he also saw a colored boy on the ladder on the side of one of the cars of the train, motioning as if he wanted the plaintiff to come along. The plaintiff started to run north beside the train, and as he did so turned and fell, one or more wheels of the car passing over his arm. There were four
tracks at this point, and the train was on the third track from the park. The plaintiff had his hands reached out toward the car, as he ran, as if he was reaching after it, and seemed to the witness to be drawn around by the draught of the train, and fall on his back. Amputation of the left arm at the shoulder was rendered necessary, and constituted the injury for which damages were claimed in this suit.
After the evidence in the case had been closed, the court instructed the jury to find a verdict for the defendant, to which ruling the plaintiff excepted. Judgment was entered on the verdict, and the plaintiff sued out this writ of error.