Davis v. Virginia Railway Company

RESPONDENT: Virginia Railway Company
LOCATION: Bonneville Dam

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 361 US 354 (1960)
ARGUED: Dec 10, 1959
DECIDED: Jan 25, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for Davis v. Virginia Railway Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1959 in Davis v. Virginia Railway Company

Earl Warren:

Number 53 Clifford M. Davis versus Virginia Railway Company.

Mr. Davis you may proceed.

Henry E. Howell, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and honorable associate Justices, the petitioner in this case is a railroad employee, a yard conductor, who was injured while attempting to carry out his duties incident to a switching movement at the Ford Assembly Plant in North of Virginia.

He is complaining of two actions of the Court below, the first the Court deprived him of a Jury Trial with respect to the liability of the railroad insofar as how this accident occurred and the railroad's breach of duty under the Federal Employer Liability Act.

The second question is a little more intriguing.

It cites as error of the lower Court's decision in holding as a matter of law that the doctor employed by the railroad to treat this injured employee was not an agent or an employee within the contemplation of FELA.

Now the first question we feel is boiled down to three charges of liability but with respect to the railroad.

Number one we feel that the record is clear that a jury question was created with respect to the amount of time that was allotted to the performance of the particular train movement involved.

Number two, we feel that the petitioner was furnished inexperienced personnel and three we feel that an improper work area was furnished him with respect to the condition of the right of way immediately adjacent to the track.

Now, how did this accident occur?

The Ford Motor Company took a 30-minute lunch period.

While their employees were eating lunch they weren't at the railroad to spot the railroad cars containing the parts necessary to assemble the automobiles at certain predestined spots inside of a house shed.

The car had to be exactly positioned opposite this opening in order to comply with the requirements of the Ford plant.

The railroad in an attempt to accommodate its customer allotted only 30 minutes for a shifting operation which without -- substantial contradiction and certainly the evidence is to be viewed in the light most favorable to the petitioner in the view of the deprivation of the right by jury, the evidence was that with two inexperienced brakemen, it would require from an hour to an hour and ten minutes and that even if the brakeman were experienced which is not the case here, it would require approximately 50 minutes.

So the railroad was creating a situation that involved haste by a necessity in order to accommodate the Ford plant they were requiring a job to be done in half the time that ordinary prudence would suggest.

Now on this particular day this yard conductor who ordinarily would give his signals from the ground to his brakeman had been furnished with two young men who had never before in their lives spotted cars within the house shared of the Ford plant.

On page 51 of the record, Mr. Pennington, the so called senior bake -- brakeman was asked, “Did you know how to spot cars in the house?”

“No sir.”

“Did you need any assistance on the morning of July 03, 1957?”

“Yes sir.”

“Whom did you ask to assist you?”


“Speak a little louder we can hardly hear you, Mr. Davis”, that was the yard conductor.

Now we have even more interest, Mr. Pennington states what Mr. Davis was attempting to do at the time that he slipped from the grab-on of the car and caused his injury.

Mr. Davis had been walking in consistent with this 30 minute work schedule that created a climate of haste; he was walking along the top of these freight cars to get to a position where he could assist this inexperienced brakeman.

When he reached the gondola car which required him to come down the side of the box car and hasten up and then get up on the next box car and continue on to his brake work.

“Do you know why he was coming back?”

“He was coming back there with me to show me where to spot cars.”

“When did you last see him?”

“I seen him when he come to the gon.”