A railroad is not to be held as guaranteeing or warranting
absolute safety to its employees under all circumstances, but is
bound to exercise the care which the exigency reasonably demands in
furnishing proper roadbed, tracks, and other structures.
Failure to exercise such care constitutes negligence, but the
mere existence of a great number of tracks close to each other in a
Page 239 U. S. 464
where public street are necessarily utilized is not enough to
support an inference of negligence.
In this case, brought under the Employers' Liability Act, the
trial court did not err in entering a nonsuit for lack of evidence
showing failure of the carrier to provide a safe place for the
employ to work, although the latter was killed by striking an
obstruction while leaning out from the engine which he was on.
225 F. 518 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the validity of a judgment of nonsuit
in a suit for death of a railroad employee under the Employers'
Liability Act, are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Relying upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act, plaintiff in
error brought suit against the railway company in the district
court to recover damages for her husband's death, alleged to have
resulted from the negligent and improper construction and
maintenance of its tracks in too close proximity to each other.
At the conclusion of plaintiff's testimony, the trial court,
finding "no evidence of negligence or neglect to provide him [the
employee] with a safe place to work as to the act he was performing
at that time," entered a nonsuit and afterwards refused to take it
off. This was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals (225 F. 518)
upon the ground that the railroad "did not fail in its duty to
provide the deceased with a reasonably safe place to work," and the
sole question for our consideration is whether any other conclusion
could be legitimately drawn from the facts disclosed.
Page 239 U. S. 465
For use in shifting freight cars and making up trains, the
defendant maintains, as a part of its Noble Street Yard, two
parallel tracks running north and south along Front street,
Philadelphia, from which other tracks, curves, and turnouts lead
into different freight sheds, warehouses, etc. These were located
and are maintained under an ordinance of the city according to
plans duly approved by its officials. At and near the place of the
accident, the street is almost entirely occupied by them. The
distance between such north and south tracks is much less than the
general standard adopted by the company, and box cars moving
thereon have barely enough room to pass. These conditions are
obvious, and have existed for fifteen years or more.
Deceased was a capable, experienced fireman in a night switching
crew operating in the yard, which was properly lighted, and
acquainted with the general conditions described. The cause was
tried upon the theory that, about midnight, November 18, 1912,
while his engine was moving five miles per hour along one of the
parallel tracks, he attempted to procure drinking water at a tap in
the side, near the bottom, and three feet from the front of the
tender; that, in doing so, his body was extended outside the line
of both tender and engine and crushed by contact with a freight car
standing on the other parallel track, and that the railway
negligently constructed and maintained these tracks too near each
The rule is well settled that a railroad company is not to be
held as guarantying or warranting absolute safety to its employees
under all circumstances, but is bound to exercise the care which
the exigency reasonably demands in furnishing proper roadbed,
tracks, and other structures. A failure to exercise such care
constitutes negligence. Union Pacific Ry. v. O'Brien,
161 U. S. 451
161 U. S. 457
Choctaw, Okla. &c. Co. v. McDade, 191 U. S.
, 191 U. S. 67
Myers v. Pittsburgh Coal Co., 233 U.
, 233 U. S. 191
A railroad yard
Page 239 U. S. 466
where trains are made up necessarily has a great number of
tracks and switches close to one another (Randall v. Balti.
& Ohio R. Co., 109 U. S. 478
109 U. S.
), and certainly the mere existence of such
conditions is not enough to support an inference of negligence
where, as here, it is necessary to utilize a public street. Both
the district court and the circuit court of appeals felt
constrained to hold the evidence insufficient to carry the question
of negligence to the jury, and, having examined the record, we are
unable to say that they reached a wrong result. The judgment is
MR. JUSTICE HUGHES and MR. JUSTICE PITNEY are of the opinion
that, upon the question of the defendant's negligence, the only
question upon which the court below ruled, there was sufficient
evidence to go to the jury, and therefore dissent.