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Law School Case Brief

Lehigh & W. Coal Co. v. Hayes - 128 Pa. 294, 18 A. 387 (1889)


An employer is not bound to furnish for his workmen the "safest" machinery, nor to provide the "best methods" for its operation, in order to save himself from responsibility for accidents resulting from its use. If the machinery is of an ordinary character and such as can with reasonable care be used without danger to the employee, it is all that can be required from the employer; this is the limit of his responsibility and the sum total of his duty.


While the employee was shoveling coal on a coal chute, the employee was killed when the trap at the bottom of the chute was opened by a fellow employee, and the employee was drawn with the coal into a railroad car stationed below. Plaintiffs, the parents of the killed employee, brought an action against the employer to recover damages for the death of their son,  alleging that defendant employer had a duty to provide for giving notice, prior to opening the trap, of the intention to draw the coal out of the chute. The trial court refused the employer's request for a directed verdict. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the parents. Defendant employer appealed from the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County (Pennsylvania), which was entered in favor of plaintiffs, the parents.


Was there evidence of negligence on the part of the employer?




The court reversed, holding that: (1) the employer was not negligent in failing to provide a system of signals because there was no proof that the employer neglected any of the precautions that were usually observed in carrying on the business of crushing, screening, and shipping coal, and no evidence was given to show that it was customary among coal operators to give any warning of the intention to draw the coal out of the chute; and (2) the employer was not negligent in failing to give a warning to the employee that the coal was about to be drawn because there was evidence tending to show that the employee had knowledge that the event was likely to occur immediately.

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