Baltimore Ohio Southwestern Railway Company v. Voigt
United States Supreme Court
BALTIMORE OHIO SOUTHWESTERN RAILWAY COMPANY v. VOIGT
Argued: December 20, 21, 1899. --- Decided: February 26, 1900
The following statement and question were certified to this court by the judges of the circuit court of appeals for the sixth circuit:
'This was an action brought by William Voigt, the defendant in error, against the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railway Company, the plaintiff in error, to recover for damages sustained by him in consequence of a collision between two trains of the plaintiff in error, upon one of which-a fast passenger train-he was riding at the time of the accident. He was an express messenger riding in a car which was set apart for the use of the United States Express Company, and occupied by that company for its purposes under a contract between the express company and the railway company. The plaintiff alleged in his petition that he was traveling as a passenger for hire on one of the defendant's trains, being an express messenger on said train. In fact, he was upon said train only by virtue of his employment as express messenger of his company and the above-mentioned contract between his company and the railway company. The answer of the railway company set up two grounds of defense. The first admitted that Voigt was an express messenger on its train, but denied that he was traveling as a passenger for hire. The railway company also admitted that on the occasion of the injury complained of, the train on which he was riding came into collision with another of its trains, and that in the collision Voigt sustained injuries. The second ground of defense, inasmuch as it sets out the specific matter in controversy, is here set forth in detail: "For a second and separate defense the railway company answered that on the day in question it was, and had for a long time prior thereto been, a corporation under the laws of Ohio, engaged in the operation of its railroad from Cincinnati to St. Louis and other places, and was so engaged at the time of the collision referred to; and that on the 1st day of March, 1895, it entered into a contract with the United States Express Company, a jointstock company duly authorized by law to carry on the express business and to enter into such contract; and that by said contract it was agreed between the express company and the railway company, among other things, that the railway company would furnish for the express company, on the railway company's line between Cincinnati and St. Louis, cars adapted to the carriage of such express matter as the express company desired to have transported over said line; and that it was part of said contract that one or more employees of said express company should accompany said goods in said cars over the said line of said railroad, and for such purpose should be transported in said cars free of charge; and that it was further provided in said contract that the express company should protect the railway company and hold it harmless from all liability the railway company might be under to employees of the express company for injury they might sustain while being transported by the railway company over its line for the purpose aforesaid, whether the injuries were caused by negligence of the railway company or its employees, or otherwise. The railway company further averred that, pursuant to said contract with the express company, it placed upon its line of railroad for said express company certain cars known as express cars; and that it was hauling one of said cars on one of its trains on the 30th of December, 1895, at the time said collision occurred; and that prior to the time of the accident Voigt had made application to the express company in writing for employment by it as an express messenger; and that in pursuance to said application he was, prior to and at the time of the collision, employed by the express company under a contract in writing between him and it, by the terms whereof he did assume the risk of all accidents and injuries that he might sustain in the course of his said employment, whether occasioned by negligence and whether resulting in death or otherwise, and did undertake and agree to indemnify and hold harmless the said express company from any and all claims that might be made against it arising out of any claim or recovery on his part for any damages sustained by him by reason of any injury, whether such injury resulted from negligence or otherwise, and did agree to pay to said express company on demand any sum which it might be compelled to pay in consequence of any such claim, and did agree to execute and deliver to the corporation operating the transportation line (in this instance the railway company) upon which he might be injured, a good and sufficient release under his hand and seal of all claims, demands, and causes of action arising out of any such injury or connected with or resulting therefrom, and did ratify all agreements made by the express company with any transportation line (in this instance said railway company), in which said express company had agreed or might agree that the employees of said express company should have no cause of action for injuries sustained in the course of their employment upon the line of such transportation company; and that the said Voigt did further agree to be bound by each and every of the agreements above mentioned as fully as if he were a party thereto. He did agree that his contract with the express company should inure to the benefit of any corporation upon whose line said express company should forward merchandise (in this instance the said railway company), as fully and completely as if made directly with the corporation. In said defense it was further set forth that at the time the plaintiff sustained the injuries for which the suit was brought he was in an express car being transported by the railway company over its line from Cincinnati to St. Louis, pursuant to said contract between said express company and the railway company, and that said Voigt was at the time of the collision upon said car in pursuance to his contract with said express company, and not otherwise.'
'To this second defense a demurrer was interposed by Voigt on the ground that the allegations therein did not constitute a defense to the action. Upon the hearing of this demurrer it was sustained, and an entry was made of record, finding the demurrer well taken. The opinion of the court sustaining the demurrer is published in 79 Fed. Rep. 561. The decision of the court went upon the ground that, although Voigt was an express messenger riding upon an express car in the circumstances stated, he was a passenger for hire and entitled to the rights accorded by law to ordinary passengers traveling by a train of a common carrier, and, further, that it was not competent for the railway company to absolve itself from the duties which rest upon a common carrier in reference to its passengers. A stipulation in writing was filed waiving a trial by jury, and the case was tried by the court. The finding of the issues was in favor of the plaintiff, and the damages were assessed at the sum of $6,000, and judgment was thereupon entered that the plaintiff recover that sum, with costs. The defendant brings the case here on writ of error, and assigns errors, the substance of which is involved in the ruling of the court below sustaining the demurrer to the second defense of the answer of the defendant; and the controversy here involves the question whether in point of law a messenger of an express company, occupying a car of a railway company assigned to an express company for the prosecution of its business under a contract fixing the relations of the railway company and the express company which, for the consideration shown by the contract, absolves the railway company from the consequence of its negligence to the express company and its employees, and to which the employee agrees upon entering the service of the express company, stands in the ordinary relation of a common carrier of passengers for hire to the employee of the express company. The rule is undoubtedly well settled that a railway company standing in the relation of a common carrier to a passenger for hire cannot absolve itself from liability or the consequences of its negligence in carriage, but the members of the court are in doubt whether the defendant in error comes within the rule above mentioned, and therefore upon the foregoing statement of fact it is ordered that the following question be certified to the Supreme Court of the United States for its instruction: 'Question.
'A railroad company engaged as common carrier in the business of transporting passengers and freight for hire entered into a contract in writing with an express company authorized by law to do and actually doing the business known as express business, by which contract the railroad company agreed, solely upon the considerations and terms hereinafter mentioned, to furnish for the exclusive use of such express company, in the conduct of its said express business over said railway company's lines, certain privileges, facilities, and express cars to be used and employed exclusively by said express company in the conduct of such express business; and to transport said cars and contents, consisting of express matter, in its fast passenger trains, together with one or more persons in charge of said express matter, known as express messengers, for that purpose to be allowed to ride in said express cars; to transport such express messengers for the purposes and under the circumstances aforesaid free of charge. And by said contract it was agreed on the part of said express company to pay said railroad company for such privileges and facilities, and for the furnishing and use of said express car or cars, and for such transportation thereof, a compensation named in said contract; and by which contract it was further agreed by the express company to protect the railroad company and hold it harmless from all liability it might be under to employees of the express company for any injuries sustained by them while being so transported by said railroad company, whether the injuries were caused by negligence of the railroad company or its employees, or otherwise. A person made application to said express company in writing to be employed by it as express messenger on the railroad of the company between which and such express company a contract as aforesaid existed; and such applicant, pursuant to the application aforesaid, was employed by said express company under a contract in writing signed by him and it, whereby it was agreed between him and such express company that he did assume the risk of all accident or injury he might sustain in the course of said employment, whether occasioned by negligence or otherwise, and did undertake and agree to idemnify and hold harmless said express company from any and all claims that might be made against it arising out of any claim or recovery on his part for any damages sustained by him by reason of any injury, whether such damage resulted from negligence or otherwise; and to pay said express company on demand any sum which it might be compelled to pay in consequence of any such claim, and to execute and deliver to said railroad company a good and sufficient release under his hand and seal of all claims and demands and causes of action arising out of or in any manner connected with said employment, and expressly ratified the agreement aforesaid between said express company and said railroad company.
Messrs. Edward Colston, Judson Harmon, A. W. Goldsmith, and George Hoadly, Jr., for plaintiff in error.
Messrs. Charles M. Cist and Edgar W. Cist for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice Shiras delivered the opinion of the court: