Union Stock Yards Co. of Omaha v. Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy R.R.,
196 U.S. 217 (1905)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Union Stock Yards v. Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co., 196 U.S. 217 (1905)

Union Stock Yards Company of Omaha v.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company

No. 100

Argued December 14-15, 1904

Decided January 9, 1905

196 U.S. 217


A railroad company delivered a car with imperfect brakes to a terminal company; both companies failed to discover the defect, which could have been done by proper inspection; an employee of the terminal company, who

Page 196 U. S. 218

was injured as a direct result of the defective brake, sued the terminal company alone and recovered. In an action brought by the terminal company against the railroad company for the amount paid under the judgment, held that:

As both companies were wrongdoers, and were guilty of a like neglect of duty in failing to properly inspect the car before putting it in use, the fact that such duty was first required of the railroad company did not bring the case within the exceptional rule which permits one wrongdoer, who has been mulcted in damages, to recover indemnity or contribution from another, on the ground that the latter was primarily responsible.

This case comes here on the certificate of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The facts embodied therein are: the circuit court of the United States, sitting at Omaha, Neb., sustained a demurrer to the petition of the plaintiff in error against the defendant in error. The facts stated in the petition, in substance, are as follows:

"The plaintiff, the stockyards company, is a corporation which owns stockyards at South Omaha, Nebraska, railroad tracks appurtenant thereto, and motive power to operate cars for the purpose of switching them to their ultimate destinations in its yards from a transfer track which connects its tracks with the railways of the defendant, the Burlington company. The Burlington company, is a railroad corporation engaged in the business of a common carrier of freight and passengers. The defendant places the cars destined for points in the plaintiff's yards on the transfer track adjacent to the premises of the plaintiff, and the latter hauls them to their points of destination in its yards for a fixed compensation, which is paid to it by the defendant. The plaintiff receives no part of the charge to the shipper for the transportation of the cars, but the defendant contracts with the shipper to deliver the cars to their places of ultimate destination in the plaintiff's yards, and receives from the shipper the compensation therefor. The defendant delivered to the plaintiff upon the transfer track a refrigerator car of the Hammond Packing Company, used by the defendant to transport the meats of that company, to be delivered to that company by the plaintiff in its stockyards. This car was in bad order, in

Page 196 U. S. 219

that the nut above the wheel upon the brake staff was not fastened to the staff, although it covered the top of the staff, and rested on the wheel as though it was fastened thereto, and this defect was discoverable upon reasonable inspection. The plaintiff undertook to deliver the car to the Hammond company, and sent Edward Goodwin, one of its servants, upon it for that purpose, who, by reason of this defect, was thrown from the car and injured while he was in the discharge of his duty. He sued the plaintiff, and recovered a judgment in one of the district courts of Nebraska for the damages which he sustained by his fall, on the ground that it was caused by the negligence of the stockyards company in the discharge of its duty of inspection to its employee. This judgment was subsequently affirmed by the Supreme Court of Nebraska, Union Stock-Yards Co. v. Goodwin, 57 Neb. 138, and was paid by the plaintiff."

Upon this certificate, the circuit court of appeals propounds the following question:

"Is a railroad company which delivers a car in bad order to a terminal company, that is under contract to deliver it to its ultimate destination on its premises for a fixed compensation, to be paid to it by the railroad company, liable to the terminal company for the damages which the latter has been compelled to pay to one of its employees on account of injuries he sustained while in the customary discharge of his duty of operating the car, by reason of the defect in it, in a case in which the defect is discoverable upon reasonable inspection? "

Page 196 U. S. 222

Primary Holding

When multiple parties combine to engage in wrongful conduct, the party that is held liable for act will not be able to get indemnity or contribution from the other party because they share responsibility for the injury jointly.


Union Stock Yards Co. of Omaha moved switching cars for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad in its stockyard. Neither entity inspected the cars, one of which had a defective nut that would have been apparent from an ordinary examination. As a result of the defect, an employee of Union was involved in an accident. After Union paid damages to the employee, it sued the Railroad for indemnity or contribution.



  • William Rufus Day (Author)
  • David Josiah Brewer
  • John Marshall Harlan
  • Henry Billings Brown
  • Edward Douglass White
  • Rufus Wheeler Peckham
  • Joseph McKenna
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
  • Melville Weston Fuller

The only situation in which a tortfeasor may recover indemnity or contribution from another tortfeasor jointly involved in the same wrongful conduct is when the other tortfeasor was primarily responsible. This is appropriate because the principal responsible party should bear the burden of the resulting costs and losses. In this case, however, both companies acted negligently by failing to inspect the car and putting those who used it at an unnecessary risk of harm. The exception thus was not appropriate.

Case Commentary

The outcome may have been different if the responsibility had not been divided evenly between the parties. If the railroad had held the majority of the fault, it may have been required to pay contribution to the company.

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