Respondent recovered judgment against petitioner upon the verdict of a jury in an Ohio state court of first instance for a personal injury resulting from a collision at a railroad-highway crossing between an automobile which she was driving and a train of cars operated by petitioner over its line of railroad. There is evidence that the train approached the crossing without sounding the whistle of the engine or ringing the bell so as to give warning of the train's approach. There is also evidence which fairly establishes that as respondent drew near the crossing the train was in plain view for a sufficient length of time to have enabled respondent, by the use of ordinary care, to see the train, stop and avoid the collision, and, therefore, that she was guilty of contributory negligence. Miller v. Union Pacific R. Co., 290 U.S. 227, 231. The train was equipped with air brakes, in conformity with the federal Safety Appliance Act, as amended, U.S.C., Title 45, c. 1, §§ 1 and 9,
The complaint alleges, as one ground of negligence, failure on the part of petitioner to make an air connection between the engine and cars, and to maintain and use the power brakes. In respect of that ground of negligence the trial court instructed the jury, in effect, that if the violation of the federal act resulted proximately or immediately in the injury complained of, the railroad company was liable. But the jury was also told that if respondent was guilty of contributory negligence she could not recover notwithstanding the negligence of petitioner. The trial court also instructed the jury in respect of the doctrine of the last clear chance — its view apparently being that, notwithstanding the contributory negligence of respondent, petitioner would be liable if, after the danger to respondent became apparent, it could have avoided the injury but for its antecedent failure to maintain and use an equipment of air brakes such as required by the federal act.
The appellate court, in sustaining the judgment of the trial court, held: (1) that the federal law violated by petitioner was enacted not only for the protection of railroad employes and passengers on railroad trains, but
These two rulings present the questions which the writ brings here for consideration.
First. The contention of petitioner is that the federal Safety Appliance Act was intended only for the protection of employes and travelers upon the railroads, and has no relation to the safety of travelers upon highways or of the public generally. Very likely, the primary purpose in the mind of Congress was to protect employes and passengers. So much is indicated by the title — "An act to promote the safety of employes and travelers upon railroads" etc. And this is borne out by the history of the legislation. President Harrison in his first annual message to Congress called attention to the need of legislation for the better protection of the lives and limbs of those engaged in operating the interstate freight lines of the country, and especially the yard men and brakemen, and expressed the view that Congress had power to require uniformity in the construction of cars used in interstate commerce and the use of approved safety appliances upon them.
But we are asked to hold that the title expresses the sole intent of the act, and this involves a question of statutory construction. The title of an act and the history leading up to its adoption, as aids to statutory construction, are to be resorted to only for the purpose of resolving doubts as to the meaning of the words used in the act in case of ambiguity. Patterson v. Bark Eudora, 190 U.S. 169, 172; Cornell v. Coyne, 192 U.S. 418,
Section 9, supra, provides that when a train is operated with power or train brakes, not less than 50 per cent. (under regulation of the Interstate Commerce Commission now 85 per cent.) of the cars in such train shall have their brakes used and operated by the engineer of the locomotive drawing the train. That a train so equipped and operated can be brought to a stop much more quickly than by the use of hand brakes is, of course, perfectly clear; and it is reasonable to conclude that a result so readily perceivable lies within the purview of the requirement. The most important purpose of a brake upon any vehicle is to enable its operator to check its speed or stop
It fairly may be said that the nature of the duty imposed by a statute and the benefits resulting from its performance usually determine what persons are entitled to invoke its protection. In Atchison, T. & S.F.R. Co. v. Reesman, 60 Fed. 370, where the railroad company failed to erect and maintain sufficient fences, as required by a state statute, in consequence of which an animal got upon the track and derailed the train, it was held than an employe upon the train who was injured was entitled to recover under the statute. In the opinion,
"At any rate, it is clear that the fact that certain classes of persons were intended to be primarily protected by the discharge of a statutory duty will not necessarily prevent others, neither named nor intended as primary beneficiaries, from maintaining an action to recover for injuries caused by the violation of such legislative command. It may well be said that, though primarily intended for the benefit of one class, it was also intended for the protection of all who need such protection.. . . The purpose of fence laws, of this character, is not solely the protection of proprietors of adjoining fields. It is also to secure safety to trains. That there should be no obstruction on the track is a matter of the utmost importance to those who are called upon to ride on railroad trains. Whether that obstruction be a log placed by some wrongdoer, or an animal straying on the track, the danger to the trains, and those who are traveling thereon is the same. To prevent such obstruction being one of the purposes of the statute, any one whose business calls him to be on a train has a right to complain of the company, if it fails to comply with this statutory duty."
See also Hayes v. Michigan Central R. Co., 111 U.S. 228, 239-240, and other authorities cited in the Reesman case.
In the light of what has now been said, it follows that the duty imposed upon petitioner by the provisions of the act in respect of power-controlled brakes extends to and includes travelers at railway-highway crossings.
Second. The holding of the court below as to the doctrine of the last clear chance is challenged as being contrary to the weight of American authority;
Nothing we have said is to be understood as indicating our acceptance, as a substantive principle, of the ruling of the court below in respect of the point. That question is left open for consideration and determination when, if ever, it shall be so presented as to admit of its being dealt with upon its merits.
Section 9. Whenever, as provided in this chapter, any train is operated with power or train brakes not less than 50 per centum of the cars in such train shall have their brakes used and operated by the engineer of the locomotive drawing such train; and all power-braked cars in such train which are associated together with said 50 per centum shall have their brakes so used and operated; and, to more fully carry into effect the objects of said chapter, the Interstate Commerce Commission may, from time to time, after full hearing, increase the minimum percentage of cars in any train required to be operated with power or train brakes which must have their brakes used and operated as aforesaid; and failure to comply with any such requirement of the said Interstate Commerce Commission shall be subject to the like penalty as failure to comply with any requirement of this section.