Law School Case Brief
Balt. & O. R. Co. v. Henthorne - 73 F. 634 (6th Cir. 1896)
The same degree of care that a railroad company should take in providing and maintaining its machinery must be observed in selecting and retaining its employes, including telegraphic operators. Ordinary care on its part implies, as between it and its employes, not simply the degree of diligence which is customary among those entrusted with the management of railroad property, but such as, having respect to the exigencies of the particular service, ought reasonably to be observed. It is such care as, in view of the consequences that may result from negligence on the part of employes, is fairly commensurate with the perils or dangers likely to be encountered. This is one of the personal obligations of a master to a servant that he cannot rid himself of by delegating it to an agent to perform. Nor does he fully discharge the entire obligation to his servants by fully inquiring concerning an applicant's fitness at the time he takes him into the service. It is the master's duty to exercise proper supervision over the work of his servants, and through such supervision to keep himself advised as to the continued fitness of those in his employ.
Plaintiff brakeman, an employee of defendant railroad company, filed an action against the railroad company to recover damages for certain bodily injuries. A jury trial resulted in a judgment in favor of the brakeman, the judgment of which was entered by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern Division of the Northern District of Ohio. The railroad company appealed, arguing that the district court erred when it permitted evidence of the general reputation of its employee for drunkenness and consequent incompetency as an engineer.
Did the court err when it allowed evidence to show defendant employee’s reputation for the purpose of showing that defendant was negligent?
The appellate court found that evidence of the general reputation of an engineer for drunkenness was competent to show negligence of the part of the railroad company in retaining him in its employ. The court determined that there was no error in the failure of the circuit court to instruct the jury that the engineer's habit of drunkenness could not be used to prove that he was in fact a drunkard. The court held that it was not a prejudicial error for the circuit court to refuse to take the issue of contributory negligence from the jury. The court concluded that the circuit court correctly instructed the jury that the power to suspend an employee vested an agent of the railroad company with authority to receive notice of the engineer's incompetency. The court also concluded that a charge on the measure of damages correctly directed the jury to consider the loss of earning capacity based upon the brakeman's probable yearly earnings during his entire life.
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