Herdman v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

PETITIONER: Virgil Herdman
RESPONDENT: Pennsylvania Railroad Company
LOCATION: Railroad Crossing

LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 352 US 518 (1957)
ARGUED: Dec 04, 1956
DECIDED: Feb 25, 1957
GRANTED: Apr 23, 1956

John A. Eckler - for the respondent
Joseph P. McNamara - for the petitioner
Robert L. Barton - for the respondent

Facts of the case

On February 1, 1951, Virgil Herdman, a train conductor, was in charge of a freight train traveling from Indiana to Ohio. While passing through Dayton, Ohio, the train braked abruptly to avoid hitting a car stopped on a railroad crossing. Herdman fell and was injured as the train came to a stop.

Herdman sued the railroad company for negligence and claimed that the company was responsible for his fall under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Courts typically apply this doctrine when negligence can be inferred, without actual direct evidence, from the very nature of the accident. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled in favor of the railroad on the basis that Herdman did not provide enough facts to support his negligence claim, even under the res ipsa loquitur doctrine. Herdman appealed and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.


Did Herdman present enough evidence to go to trial for a negligence claim under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur?

Media for Herdman v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 04, 1956 in Herdman v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Earl Warren:

Number 46, Virgil Herdman versus Pennsylvania Railroad.

Mr. McNamara.

Donald S. McNamara:

If the Court please.

Virgil Herdman, the petitioner in this case was the complainant, the plaintiff in the original trial of the case.

This case was tried in the District Court of Columbus, Ohio and submitted on the basis of res ipsa loquitur.

Only the complainant, the petitioner and his two doctors testified.

At the end of the case, the Court directed the verdict for the respondent railroad.

Virgil Herdman worked for 22 years for the respondent railroad as a brakeman and as a freight conductor.

Back in 1951, his work then was as a freight conductor.

He worked from Columbus, Ohio to Richmond, Indiana and back on the following day working seven days a week.

His work as a freight conductor was that of the paperwork on the freight train.

He rode in the caboose and performed his work as the train moved along at prescribed route, from one city to another and from one railroad yard to another.

He had the responsibility of the bills of lading and as he said, he checked them and wrote them up as the train moved from one place to another and he set of the bills of lading when the cars were set off in their prescribed place.

It was customary that all the paperwork be concluded, by the time the train reached it's -- the end of its destination.

In the caboose was provided not only a bunk to rest on but a table and chair on which the petitioner was to perform his paperwork as they move from city to city.

Herdman, as he testified, was in charge of the train from the caboose forward to the coal tender, not including the coal tender, the diesel locomotive and the steam locomotive that made up this train.

In February 1st, 1951, the train in which he was riding consisted of about 67 freight cars.

A diesel locomotive, coal tender and a steam engine on the head end.

They had left Richmond, Indiana and was proceeding eastwardly through Dayton, Ohio.

Virgil was working in the caboose as prescribed with his paperwork.

When they reached the point within the yard limits or what's called sometimes the Dayton limits of the respondent railroad near the City of Dayton, at a point were there was no reason to stop about three miles as a matter of fact from the next stop, three miles from the next yards, a certain -- a running of a slack occurred.

The caboose was jerked violently forward.

The petitioner was thrown from his position, the edge of a bunk forward into the caboose into the wall and down.

The man working in the caboose with him landed on top of him, and he sustained personal injuries.

He got out of the caboose.

Some few minutes afterwards, he walked outside, heard the air coming back through the air line of the caboose and got back in.

The railroad owed Virgil Herdman, by common law and under the FELA, a duty to provide him a safe place to work.

This is a continuing duty.

His safe place to work supposedly was within the caboose area.

It was there he was to do his work, the same as the engineer in the engine and the fireman in the engine on the locomotive.