Dennis v. Denver & Rio Grand Western Railroad Company

RESPONDENT: Denver & Rio Grand Western Railroad Company
LOCATION: Alabama State Capitol

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 375 US 208 (1963)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1963
DECIDED: Dec 09, 1963

Facts of the case


Media for Dennis v. Denver & Rio Grand Western Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1963 in Dennis v. Denver & Rio Grand Western Railroad Company

Earl Warren:

Number 25, Claude Dennis, Petitioner, versus Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Company.

Mr. Black.

Wayne L. Black:

Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Honorable Court.

This is the case of a railroad section hand who brings his action against the Denver and Rio Grand Western Railroad Company, his employer, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

He alleges that a series of events took place on January 2nd and 3rd of 1960 and that he -- he was injured as a result of those events.

He filed and tried his action in the Third Judicial District Court of Salt Lake County and a jury returned the verdict in his favor in the amount of $20,000, reducing the verdict to $10,000 for contributory negligence.

The Utah State Supreme Court reversed the finding of the jury as approved by the trial court and we are here today after the granting of a petition for writ of certiorari to determine this case on its merit.

The facts of the case are simply this, an open joint between two rails had occurred some 16 miles out of Green River, Utah and it became necessary to repair this open joint.

The crew consisting of the foreman Chronopolous, a truck driver and two section men, met at 5 p.m. on the late afternoon of January 2nd, at the tool house at Green River, Utah and proceeded by track to the appointed task out on the plains of Utah some 16 miles from the closest place where people resided.

An open joint briefly is described as a situation which occurs when rails contract in extremely cold weather.

These rails are some 39 feet in length and in this particular instance, the ex -- the contraction had caused an open -- opening between two joints of some 1 and 3/4 inches in length.

These open joints are repaired briefly by the loosening of certain angle bars at each joint, working away from the open joint and then prying the rails toward the opening and ultimately realigning the holes between the angle bars and the rails, so that new bolts can be placed in the location on either side of the open joint.

The crew of which the plaintiff was a member, was shorthand of a Mr. Powell, Delmar Powell, who is a regular member of this crew, could not be located and so to begin with, we have a shorthanded crew.

Also, if other crews were available, if other crews were needed, our evidence and our testimony was that they were available.

We have the testimony of the foreman Chronopolous to the effect that if other crew -- another crew was needed to relieve his crew, he could have asked for it, but that he didn't do so.

Also we had testimony from the plaintiff who was a 16-year section man with much experience in this area of work who testified that the repair of an open joint isn't in the nature of an emergency.

By the use of a Dutchman and train orders, trains can be slowed down at these open joints and can go across them at a restricted speed in very good order.

As a matter of fact on this particular night, as the night were long, three trains were slowed down thusly and proceeded across a Dutchman and to their appointed destinations.

The temperature was bitter cold.

The evidence is that the temperature range starting on this particular nights were from 10 degrees above until it reached 5 degrees below as the evening were long.

The evidence is that winds were blowing across this plain and through the cut where this open joint was located.

And that they were of such nature that the fire that this men devised by using an old railroad tie was inadequate to furnish effective heat for warming purposes.

Although, this fire was the means provided that night for warming these men in turn as they went about their appointed task.

Now, the foreman was in continuous charge throughout the night.

He made the decisions.

He issued the orders.

He decided who should work, where they should work and it was under his plan of work that these men in turn, went to the fire from time to time throughout the night in quest of warmth.

And at midnight, at midnight after these men had worked for some seven hours, the plaintiff testified that his hands were tingling.

He said they started to burn more less like your hand burns when it goes asleep.

And he notified the foreman of this fact and advised the foreman, he said, "I said it looks like my hand's frozen to the wrench" and yet he testified --