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Deckert v. Chicago & E.i.r. Co.

FEBRUARY 1, 1955.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison county; the Hon. WILLIAM G. JUERGENS, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed.


Rehearing denied February 23, 1955.

The plaintiff, Carl Arthur Decker, while employed by the defendant railroad in a roundhouse, fell from a height of about 20 feet onto a concrete floor and suffered severe injuries. He brought this suit, alleging that the Federal Employers Liability Act (45 U.S.C.A., secs. 51-59) applied, and charged that the defendant was negligent in furnishing him with incompetent help and in failing to furnish a reasonably safe place to work, and that defendant failed to furnish any reasonable safeguard or protection against falling.

The trial resulted in a verdict for plaintiff for $12,000 and, after the court overruled defendant's several motions, judgment was entered on the verdict. On this appeal the first point presented is that a verdict for defendant should have been directed, on the ground that plaintiff was not employed in interstate commerce or in furtherance thereof, and his duties did not directly or closely and substantially affect such commerce.

It was stipulated that locomotives used in interstate commerce were commonly serviced in this roundhouse in preparation for interstate movement. Plaintiff's usual employment was that of mechanic and welder on interstate equipment. On the day in question, and for some time prior thereto, he had been assigned the particular task of cutting with a blowtorch some metal pipe which was slung a few feet below the roundhouse ceiling. This was part of equipment formerly used to supply hot water to engines, but it had not been used for some years and was being removed and junked. The company's carpenter gang was removing the heavier equipment while plaintiff cut the pipe into lengths convenient for handling.

There was also some disputed testimony that the pipes had deteriorated and were flaking off, also that they were only about five feet above the top of an engine in a stall, and interfered with headroom of men servicing engines.

Whether this plaintiff was engaged in interstate commerce is a phase of a problem which has troubled the courts ever since the origin of the act. Its importance arises from the fact that Congress is without authority to legislate in this field, unless it concerns interstate commerce. The problem, naturally, is most acute when the employee is not engaged in the actual movement of trains.

Without attempting to cite the numerous cases on the subject, it may be said that, with respect to new construction of facilities to be used by the railroad, prior to their actual use, construction employees were generally regarded as not coming under the federal act. With respect to maintenance of existing facilities used in interstate commerce, some cases held the maintenance employee came under the act, others held he did not.

In 1939 the Congress amended the act to include employees whose duties were "in furtherance of" interstate commerce, or which closely and substantially affect it. No doubt this was intended to clarify the situation, but conflicting decisions in various state and federal courts continue to abound. Accordingly, this opinion is confined substantially to precedents in Illinois.

In Ernhart v. Elgin J. & E. Ry., 405 Ill. 577, the court considered the case of a switchman who sometimes worked with interstate cars, but, at the time of his injury he was with a string of cars for purely local use. It was held that this switching operation would have some effect on other movements of cars to be used interstate, and that he was under the act. Many foreign precedents were analyzed; in one of these, a workman was electrocuted while repairing a door of a roundhouse used for interstate engines, and this was held to be under the act. The Illinois court concluded that the usual employment of a plaintiff is not decisive, if he has been injured on a temporary assignment of purely local character, but from its study of many cases, the court also found "a liberal attitude in construing the employment engaged in at the time as being in furtherance of interstate commerce."

In Walden v. Chicago & N.W. Ry., 411 Ill. 378, the employee was engaged in maintenance or repair of a bridge used for vehicular traffic. No trains operated upon it, but it spanned a number of tracks used for interstate trains, and this was held to be work in furtherance of interstate commerce.

In Illinois Cent. R.R. Co. v. Industrial Commission, 414 Ill. 546, a laborer had dug a ditch to drain water away from the location of a switch to avoid ice accumulation. He had broken up some planking in the process and went to secure a new plank. While carrying a plank he was injured. He had nothing to do with the operation or the maintenance of the switch itself, but only with surrounding conditions. It was held he was engaged in furtherance of interstate commerce.

These decisions suffice to indicate that repair and maintenance in good working order of facilities of the railroad is regarded as in furtherance of interstate commerce, even though the facilities are fixed and immovable, provided only that they are used in the service of such commerce. And in our opinion, the removal of damaged or obsolete equipment from the roundhouse is as much a part of proper maintenance thereof as any other type of renovation and repair designed to keep the roundhouse suited to current needs.

The next point urged is that there was no evidence of negligence on the part of defendant, and that the facts show plaintiff's injury occurred by reason of his own negligence. ...

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