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SHIELDS v. ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD CO.

February 27, 1956

SHIELDS
v.
ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD CO.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Warren, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Minton; Harlan took no part in the consideration or decision of this case

Author: Minton

[ 350 U.S. Page 319]

 MR. JUSTICE MINTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner, an independent contractor in the business of unloading gasoline, was instructed by the consignee to unload a tank car of gasoline which had been hauled by respondent Atlantic Coast Line and which was located at the time on a siding in respondent's freight yards. In order to release the gasoline through a hose attached to the bottom of the car, it was necessary to go to the dome on top of the car, remove the dome cap, and open a valve inside the dome. While petitioner and his helper were engaged in opening the valve, the board on which they were standing broke and petitioner fell, sustaining injuries. There is no dispute that the board was defective. It was a wooden board over seven feet long attached to the side of the tank near the top just below the dome by means of two triangular steel braces extending from the side of the tank at either end of the board.

The question presented here is whether this device, which for convenience we shall call a dome running board, is a safety appliance within the meaning of §§ 2 and 3 of the Safety Appliance Act of 1910. Act of April 14, 1910, c. 160, §§ 2 and 3, 36 Stat. 298, 45 U.S.C. §§ 11 and 12.

Petitioner brought suit in the District Court, alleging in one count of his amended complaint absolute liability for a violation of the Act and in a second count common-law negligence. The jury returned a general verdict in his

[ 350 U.S. Page 320]

     favor. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on the negligence count alone, holding that the trial court erred in instructing that the dome running board was a safety appliance. 220 F.2d 242.*fn1 We granted certiorari because of the importance of the questions raised as to the proper interpretation of the Safety Appliance Act. 350 U.S. 819.

Section 2 of the Safety Appliance Act of 1910 provides in part:

". . . all cars requiring secure ladders and secure running boards shall be equipped with such ladders and running boards . . . ."

Section 3 provides:

"That within six months from the passage of this Act the Interstate Commerce Commission, after hearing, shall designate the number, dimensions, location, and manner of application of the appliances provided for by section two . . . and thereafter said number, location, dimensions, and manner of application as designated by said commission shall remain as the standards of equipment to be used on all cars subject to the provisions of this Act, unless changed by an order of said Interstate Commerce Commission . . . and failure to comply with any such requirement of the Interstate Commerce Commission shall be subject to a like penalty as failure to comply with any requirement of this Act . . . ."*fn2

Under the authority of § 3, the Commission in 1911 promulgated regulations still in force providing in detail for

[ 350 U.S. Page 321]

     one running board running around the perimeter, or at least the full length of the sides, of tank cars.*fn3 Such a board enables a trainman to walk the length of a tank car between cars adjoining it on either end. The regulations make no mention whatever by any name of dome running boards. Petitioner nevertheless contends that the dome running board is a required running board affording him protection under § 2.

The obvious purpose of a dome running board is to provide a secure flooring for those who must perform operations in connection with the tank car dome. Clearly, the dome running board has major importance in loading and unloading operations. But a railroad man of over twenty-five years' experience testified that it also may be used to stand on in order to pass hand signals or repair minor troubles occurring while the train is en route. The dome running board is an integrated part of the exterior equipment of a tank car;*fn4 it functions as a permanently attached outside "floor" near the dome of the car. The testimony showed that railroad men, including ...


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