RESPONDENT: Taxas & Pacific Railway Company
DOCKET NO.: 321
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 353 US 926 (1957)
ARGUED: Apr 02, 1957
DECIDED: Apr 08, 1957
Facts of the case
Media for Thomson v. Texas & Pacific Railway Co.
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1957 in Thomson v. Texas & Pacific Railway Co.
Number 321, Ruby Nell Thomson versus Texas and Pacific Railway Company.
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
This is a case arising under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, a suit involving an injured workman on a railroad.
The employee had been hired several months before this accident to perform the duties of an agent-operator on the respondent's railroad lines.
After a few months of training or a short period of training, she was employed first of all on what was -- what was called the extra board.
That meant that she went to various stations up and down the line, filling in for a day or here and there while employees were on vacation or on sick leave.
After a period of several months of doing this kind of work, she bid in and received by a reason of her seniority a regular job as agent and operator on the station at Monahans, Texas, a station in far west Texas.
There on her testimony, it was her job to perform various duties of the clerical nature to take care of train orders and handling tickets and things of that nature.
When she first went to this job -- pardon me, a Mexican laborer, also an employee of the respondent railroad was engaged in handling the mail which came in on a regular passenger train, which passed -- passed through on the petitioner's shift.
Now, handling the mail meant loading up a baggage cart, that sort of thing, follow these individual bags and mail which had been prepared by the postal employees and lock in the postal room, pulling that cart out to the waiting train, climbing up on the cart and picking up the bags and mail individually and tossing them into the Post Office cart, receiving incoming bags of mail, getting down and pulling the cart back into the waiting mail room.
Now, as I have said, when petitioner first went to work on this particular station, a Mexican laborer, who was a witness in the trial of this case, was handling this mail and he continued to handle it up until two or three days before the petitioner's injury.
At that time, she was told by her immediate superior, who was the witness, Higginbotham that she was to handle the mail, she was to handle it alone and with no assistance.
There's no testimony in the record that the handling of the mail up to this time had been improper, that the train could been delayed or that the Mexican laborer was no longer available.
Simply the very statement that her superior requested that she handle the mail.
She did so for two or three days and on about the third day, on the day of the accident, she climbed down from the mail cart after handling several bags of mail weighing 50 to 75 pounds each, felt a sudden catch in her back.
Shortly after that time, she was taken into the hospital and received various treatment over a long period of time.
This case was tried in the Abilene Division of the Northern District of Texas and a jury verdict was returned for the petitioner.
The case was reversed on its merits by the Fifth Circuit and brought here by certiorari.
Now, it is our contention that the Fifth Circuit reversed this case or reversed the jury verdict on two particular grounds.
Both of those grounds are arguments which had been advanced before this Court in numerous decisions arising under this Act and have on each instance been rejected by this Court.
The first of those arguments, one advanced by the railroad, was that this woman was engaged in doing only the usual and customary duties of her employment at the time of the accident or in other words, the whole idea of non-negligence.
Now, we feel that the Fifth Circuit improperly analyzed the record and in arriving at their decision that this was usual and customary and therefore no negligence, that they rely on the very argument, as I have said which have previously been advanced before this Court and rejected.
The testimony is clear that it was not usual and customary as to this particular employee.
The allegations of the petitioner's complaint in the trial court were failure to furnish sufficient help, failure to furnish a safe place to work.
And the jury was charged on that basis and on that basis, on the basis of the testimony of petitioner and the testimony of these other witnesses returned a verdict that she had been furnished improper help.
Now, the first of these cases arising before this Court after the 1939 amendment to the Act, which was of course the amendment that abolished assumption of risk, was the Tiller case in which this Court set forth a very exhaustive opinion and set forth a very complete summary of the intent of Congress and the responsibilities of the employer under this Act.
The lower court in the Tiller case had advanced the same theory that the Congress by abolishing the defense of assumption of risk had not meant to increase the employer's responsibility towards his employee.
This Court said that that was just another way of saying no negligence and assumption of risk.
In other words, the employer could not simply, by saying this is a usual and customary duty, force the employee to take on whatever risk were involved in performing that job.