O'Donnell v. Elgin J & E Railway Company/Dissent Burton
United States Supreme Court
O'DONNELL v. ELGIN J & E RAILWAY COMPANY
Argued: Oct. 21, 1949. --- Decided: Dec 12, 1949
Mr. Justice BURTON, with whom Mr. Justice REED concurs, dissenting.
We do not agree that the Safety Appliance Acts contain a mandatory requirement that cars used in moving interstate traffic must be equipped with couplers that 'will remain coupled until set free by some purposeful act of control.'  Congress might have so legislated, as it did in the section which required cars to be equipped with 'efficient hand brakes; * * *.'  See Myers v. Reading Co., 331 U.S. 477, 67 S.Ct. 1334, 91 L.Ed. 1615. However, it did not do so. Accordingly, the trial judge, on this phase of this case, was justified in omitting any instruction to the jury that, if the railroad used a car equipped with a coupler that broke in the switching operation, it thereby violated the Safety Appliance Acts.
In our view, the separating of the cars at the broken coupler was properly treated as material evidence from which the jury could infer that the railroad had violated the prohibition of the Acts against using cars 'not equipped with couplers coupling automatically by impact, and which can be uncoupled without the necessity of men going between the ends of the cars.'  Vigor v. Chesapeake & Ohio R. Co., 101 F.2d 865. Cf. Johnson v. Southern Pacific Co., 196 U.S. 1, 25 S.Ct. 158, 49 L.Ed. 363. The jury was adequately instructed to that effect.