Shields v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company

PETITIONER: Shields
RESPONDENT: Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company
LOCATION: Pittsburgh Party Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 150
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 350 US 318 (1956)
ARGUED: Jan 19, 1956
DECIDED: Feb 27, 1956

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Shields v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 19, 1956 in Shields v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company

Truman M. Hobbs:

The petitioner was an independent contractor engaged in the business of unloading tank cars of gasoline for delivery to local consignees of that gas in Montgomery.

The petitioner, Mr. Shields, went upon the tank car that, from which he suffered his injury, called the purpose of unloading this gasoline.

It is necessary on the type of the tank car that he was working upon for him to climb to the dome of the tank which is some 10 feet in the air to release the -- open the dome and to turn the valve.

There is a board there at the top of a short ladder, right there at the dome, which is put there for the primary purpose of having people stand there while they do the operation that petitioner was about to do.

This board was admittedly so rotten that it crumbles in your hand.

When petitioner stepped upon this board, it fell to the ground and he fell with it, suffering severe injuries to his back, and was permanently injured.

The case went to the jury, the District Court lay on Montgomery on two counts of a complaint, one sounding in common law of negligence, the other relying on the Safety Appliance Act.

The jury rendered a general verdict in the amount of $7500 and the District Court affirmed it.

The case then was appealed to the Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

That Court found that it could not determine whether the jury had decided then on the ground of common law of negligence or on the ground of Safety Appliance Act and sets in the view of the Court of Appeals.

The Safety Appliance Act was not properly invoked.

It remanded the case to the District Court for trial on common law negligence grounds alone.

It was the theory of the Court of Appeals that the failure of the I.C.C. to issue any regulations standardizing this appliance, which we call a running board, was conclusive proof of an administrative determination that this board was not a safety appliance.

It was from that judgment of the Court of Appeals that this petition of certiorari was filed and that the case is now here.

Now the -- our case is very simply stated, the theory on which we rely for recovery is this, the Section 11 of the Safety Appliance Act states that all cars requiring secure ladders and running boards shall be equipped with such ladders and running boards.

This was a running board, it was insecure and rotten.

Petitioner stepped on it and fell to the painful injuries which there's no dispute about.

Now, to this simple statement of our theory of recovery, the defendant has -- our respondent here has raised three defenses which we'd like to discuss with the Court.

The first defense raised by respondent is that this is not a running board because it was not standardized by the I.C.C.

And respondent, in his brief, condemns petitioner for what he calls petitioner's persistent assumption that this was a running board.

And an answer to that is simply this, that the Railroad was just as persistent in calling this a running board until the railroad was confronted with a violation of those -- with the Safety Appliance Act provisions about having a running board secured.

The railroads repair order, which was put in evidence in this case, showed that the railroad called it a dome running board.

The superintendent of the railroad in answering interrogatories propounded to the railroad by the petitioner, Shields, answered no less than seven times calling this a running board.

Even on the trial, the counsel saw the railroad and witnesses called by the railroad referred to it on more than one occasion as a running board.

This idea that it's not a running board is something fair at length that has been thought of by the railroad and the railroad is upset because petitioner won't join the railroad in its inconsistency.

But the sole basis on which the railroad relies in its contention that this is not a running board is the absence of any regulations on the subject by the I.C.C.

And as we shall demonstrate the failure of the I.C.C. to standardize this appliance has absolutely no significance in determining whether this is in fact the running board.

The I.C.C. has filed a brief in this case in which it acknowledges that the ladder which goes to this running board is also not standardized.

Now, the I.C.C. doesn't contend that that ladder is in a lesser ladder because of its failure to standardize it.

And we can't see why this running board should be designated as any lesser running board because of its failure to standardize.