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decided: March 5, 1894.



Author: Shiras

[ 152 U.S. Page 150]

 MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The theory upon which the plaintiff proceeded in the court below was that Seley lost his life by reason of the negligence of the defendant, a railroad company, in using in its switches what is called an "unbloked frog."

A frog, in railroad parlance, is a section of a rail, or of several rails combined, at a point where two railways cross, or at the point of a switch from a line to a siding or to another line, and its function is to enable a car or train to be turned from one track to another. In a blocked frog the point of space between the rails, at the point where the car is switched from one track to another, is filled with wood or other material, so that the foot will not be held. There is a form of cast-iron frog, in which the space between the rails at the apex of the frog is filled with cast iron. But the evidence clearly was that the defendant company used the unblocked frog, although at some places the cast-iron frog was used. The weight of the evidence, as we read it in the bill of exceptions, plainly was that on the other great railroad systems of the West the unblocked frog was generally used. There was evidence tending to show that the unblocked frog is the better form -- that the blocked frog is liable to be broken, get out of place, and throw the train from the track.

[ 152 U.S. Page 151]

     In this disputable state of the facts the defendants asked the court to charge the jury as follows:

"The jury are instructed that if they find from the evidence that the railroad companies used both the blocked and the unblocked frog, and that it is questionable which is the safest or most suitable for the business of the roads, then the use of the unblocked frog is not negligence, and the jury are instructed not to impute the same as negligence to the defendant, and they should find for the defendant."

This prayer should have been given by the court.

In the case of Schroeder v. Michigan Car Co., 56 Mich. 132, 133, the Supreme Court of Michigan, per Cooley, J., said:

"From this statement of facts it will appear that if the defendant has been guilty of any negligence contributing to the injury, it is to be found in the fact that a machine is made use of which is not so constructed as to guard as well as it might against similar accidents. Had the machine been constructed with a shield over the cog wheels, this particular accident would probably not have occurred; and any one whose attention was drawn to the danger of such accidents would probably have perceived the desirability of such a shield. But the machine is shown by the evidence to be manufactured and sold by a prominent and reputable house, and much used throughout the country, and the defendant cannot be said to be exceptionally wanting in prudence in purchasing and making use of it. Such danger as would result from making use of it was perfectly apparent, and would seem to be easily avoided."

Walsh v. Whiteley, 21 Q.B.D. 371, 378, 379, was a case where the plaintiff was employed in defendant's mill, and it was his duty to put a band upon a vertical wheel while in motion. The disk of the wheel was not solid throughout, but had a number of holes in it. While putting the band on the wheel the plaintiff's thumb slipped into one of the holes, and was cut off. It appeared on the trial that these wheels were made sometimes with and sometimes without holes. The plaintiff's witnesses stated generally that the wheels with holes were dangerous. The plaintiff never made any complaint to his

[ 152 U.S. Page 152]

     employers. He recovered a verdict, but the judgment was, on appeal, reversed, Lindley and Lopez, JJ., saying: "Is there any evidence of the machine being defective, even in the abstract? It was perfect in all respects. It was not impaired by use. The only suggestion is that the wheel, which might have been solid, had holes in it; and that, if the wheel had been solid, the plaintiff could not have put his thumb where he did, and the accident would not have happened. . . . But the plaintiff had used the same kind of machine for thirteen years, and had sustained no injury. . . . In these circumstances we can see no evidence of any defect in the condition of the machine, even apart from the negligence of the employer. It may be that a solid wheel would have been safer, but it would be placing an intolerable burden on employers to hold that they are to adopt every fresh improvement in machinery. . . . It ...

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