Magenau v. Aetna Freight Lines, Inc.

RESPONDENT: Aetna Freight Lines, Inc.
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 360 US 273 (1959)
ARGUED: May 18, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Magenau v. Aetna Freight Lines, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 18, 1959 (Part 1) in Magenau v. Aetna Freight Lines, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 18, 1959 (Part 2) in Magenau v. Aetna Freight Lines, Inc.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Illig you may proceed.

William F. Illig:

Mr. Chief Justice may I please the Court.

The petitioner in this case seeks a reversal really on the basis of one decision of this Court, the case of Byrd versus the Blue Ridge Cooperative, in which the majority opinion was written by Mr. Justice Brennan last year.

And I just like to take a half a second to show that the Bryd case was completely different from this in the whole situation so that there won't be any confusion in the Court's mind, because in the first place in the Byrd case the only evidence of statutory employment, which was the issue there, was presented on behalf of the defendant and all of it was withdrawn from the consideration of the jury, and the Court of Appeals decided as a matter of law that the plaintiff was a statutory employee.

Here on the other hand, all of the evidence of petitioner's emergency employment was brought out by petitioner as part of his own case and it was not only all submitted to the jury, but it was submitted in the form of a special interrogatory presented by the court, which the jury answered in the affirmative and the Court of Appeals said, in the words of Judge Goodrich, “Thus the matter turns in the final analysis on a question of fact, that is a sufficient state of emergency to justify the enlisting of another to help assist in the business to be done.

The jury's finding is a forthright answer to a forthright question.

The trial judge who heard all the testimony was satisfied -- satisfied with it.

We do not think on this state of the record that we would be justified in setting it aside.”

And the Court of Appeals in our case adopted the jury's finding of fact and applied applicable principles of Pennsylvania law and held that petitioner's remedies were in workmen's compensation.

Now it's been said that the whole defense of workmen's compensation was an affirmative defense of the defendant, but I think and I believe you will agree when you study the whole record, that a very peculiar situation developed in this case, which was responsible for petitioner developing the whole matter of the emergency employment and not as in the Byrd case, where the defendant sought to show that the plaintiff was a statutory employee.

When you see the complaint you will find that it was not drawn in the terse federal notice type of pleading, but instead it was in a the detailed form followed under Pennsylvania practice and there it was alleged simply that Ormsbee the decedent was a guest passenger of the defendant invited to ride by Schroyer the driver.

There was no reference to willful or wanton conduct, there was no word about emergency hiring, but at pretrial for the first time the petitioner became aware that workmen's compensation was going to come into this case, you will find that mentioned at page 11 of the pretrial notes, and petitioner also became aware that if he were merely an invitee of the driver or a guest passenger, he would be a trespasser as to the defendant Aetna Freight Lines for this reason.

Hugo L. Black:

May I ask you a question, you said page 11 of the pretrial?

William F. Illig:

Pretrial notes.

Hugo L. Black:

So that is page 11 --

William F. Illig:

No I beg your pardon Your Honor that is not printed in the record there.

The pretrial notes I simply said that's were workmen's compensation first came into the picture.

So what I was going to say was, he knew he would be a trespasser as to the defendant Aetna for this reason and this is important.

Schroyer the driver, and I think it's already been commented upon by Mr. Schneider, had been forbidden to take any rides.

There was a no rider sign on the windshield of the truck.

The ICC regulations forbade riders under those circumstances, therefore if he was a simply rider or guest passenger of the driver, he would be a trespasser as to Aetna and he couldn't recover on the basis of ordinary negligence, but would have to show willful or wanton misconduct, which under Pennsylvania law means a conscious disregard of known danger.

So the petitioner tried his case on two new theories, and I'm bringing this out not because there was any objection to it on the behalf of the respondent at the trial, but to give the background.

First, that if Ormsbee the decedent were a trespasser, the defendant Aetna was guilty of willful or wanton misconduct even though that hadn't been alleged in the complaint, but it had been brought out at the pretrial.

Secondly and more important Ormsbee was an emergency employee of the defendant Aetna.

Now, this is important too.

At that time the petitioner thought he was on perfectly safe ground in bringing the matter of emergency employment into the case as part of his own proof.


William F. Illig:

There was, they found there was wanton misconduct on the part of the defendant, although the Court of Appeals did not find it necessary to meet that point because of the disposition on the first, because we had contended that there wasn't sufficient evidence of wanton misconduct here to have submitted the issue to the jury under established Pennsylvania law, since there wasn't any showing of a known disregard or conscious disregard of known danger, it was simply a matter of defective brakes.

So as I say, they proceeded to show emergency employment.

For this reason they thought they were safe.