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Wilkerson v. McCarthy
United States Supreme Court
336 U.S. 53 (1949)
Clyde Wilkerson (plaintiff), a railroad switchman, was seriously injured when he fell off a pit board into a pit as he was walking across the pit board. The pit board was covered in grease and oil and was only 22 inches wide. The railroad put up a chain enclosure around the pit, but a gap in the enclosure made the pit easily accessible. Wilkerson sued Wilson McCarthy, who was a trustee of the railroad, and the railroad (collectively, the railroad) (defendants) for negligence under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), which imposed liability on railroads for railroad-employee injuries caused in part by railroad negligence. During trial, conflicting evidence was presented regarding whether railroad employees other than pit employees regularly used the pit board, putting the railroad on notice of an unsafe work area. At the end of Wilkerson’s case, the trial court granted the railroad’s motion for a directed verdict, holding that Wilkerson had not established that the railroad was negligent. Wilkerson appealed, and the Utah Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, noting that although the railroad may have been negligent in failing to maintain a safe workspace if the railroad had known that general employees—employees other than pit employees—regularly used the pit board, the weight of the evidence indicated that the railroad did not have actual or constructive knowledge that general employees did so, despite contrary evidence presented at trial. The United States Supreme Court granted Wilkerson’s petition for certiorari.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Black, J.)
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