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decided: January 9, 1905.



Author: Day

[ 196 U.S. Page 222]

 MR. JUSTICE DAY, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

We take it that this inquiry must be read in the light of the statement accompanying it. While instruction is asked broadly as to the liability of the railroad company to the terminal company, for damages which the latter has been compelled to pay to one of its own employes on account of injuries sustained, it is doubtless meant to limit the inquiry to cases wherein such recovery was had because of the established negligence of the terminal company in the performance of the specific duty stated and which it owed to the employe. For it must be taken as settled that the terminal company was guilty of negligence after it received the car in question, in failing to perform the duty of inspection required of it as to its own employe. The case referred to in the certificate, Union Stock Yards Co. v. Goodwin, 57 Nebraska, 138, is a final adjudication between the terminal company and the employe,

[ 196 U.S. Page 223]

     and it therein appears that the liability of the company was based upon the defective character of the brake, which defect a reasonably careful inspection by a competent inspector would have revealed, and it was held that in permitting the employe to use the car without discovering the defect the company was rendered liable to him for the damage sustained. We have, therefore, a case in which the question of the plaintiff's negligence has been established by a competent tribunal, and the inquiry here is, may the terminal company recover contribution, or, more strictly speaking, indemnity, from the railroad company because of the damages which it has been compelled to pay under the circumstances stated?

Nor is the question to be complicated by a decision of the liability of the railroad company to the employe of the terminal company, had the latter seen fit to bring the action against the railroad company alone, or against both companies jointly. There seems to be a diversity of holding upon the subject of the railroad company's liability, under such circumstances, in courts of high authority.

In Moon v. Northern Pacific Railroad Company, 46 Minnesota, 106, and Pennsylvania Railroad Company v. Snyder, 55 Ohio St. 342, it was held that a railroad company was liable to an employe of the receiving company who had been injured on the defective car while in the employ of the latter company when under a traffic arrangement between the companies, the delivering company had undertaken to inspect the cars upon delivery, and, as in the Moon case, where there was a joint inspection by the inspectors of both companies. This upon the theory that the negligence of the delivering company, when it was bound to inspect before delivery, was the primary cause of the injury, notwithstanding the receiving company was also guilty of an omission to inspect the car, before permitting the employe to use the same.

A different view was taken in the case of Glynn v. Central R.R. Co., 175 Massachusetts, 510, in which the opinion was delivered by Mr. Justice Holmes, then Chief Justice of Massachusetts,

[ 196 U.S. Page 224]

     in which it was held that, as the car after coming into the hands of the receiving company and before it had reached the place of the accident, had crossed a point at which it should have been inspected, the liability of the delivering company for the defect in the car, which ought to have been discovered upon inspection by the receiving company, was at an end. A like view was taken by the Supreme Court of Kansas in the case of M., K. & T.R.R. Co. v. Merrill, 70 Pac. Rep. 358, reversing its former decision in the same case reported in 61 Kansas, 671. But we do not deem the determination of this question necessary to a decision of the present case.

Coming to the very question to be determined here, the general principle of law is well settled that one of several wrongdoers cannot recover against another wrongdoer, although he may have been compelled to pay all the damages for the wrong done. In many instances, however, cases have been taken out of this general rule, and it has been held inoperative in order that the ultimate loss may be visited upon the principal wrongdoer, who is made to respond for all the damages, where one less culpable, although legally liable to third persons, may escape the payment of damages assessed against him by putting the ultimate loss upon the one principally responsible for the injury done. These cases have, perhaps, their principal illustration in that class wherein municipalities have been held responsible for injuries to persons lawfully using the streets in a city, because of defects in the streets or sidewalks caused by the negligence or active fault of a property owner. In such cases, where the municipality has been called upon to respond because of its legal duty to keep public highways open and free from nuisances, recovery over has been permitted for indemnity against the property owner, the principal wrongdoer, whose negligence was the real cause of the injury.

Of this class of cases is Washington Gas Light Co. v. District of Columbia, 161 U.S. 316, in which a resident of the city of Washington had been ...

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