Geese and Trains

Sam Bray’s very interesting “Animals, Fractions, and the Interpretive Tyranny of the Senses in the Dictionary” led me to look up the case he began with, and I t،ught it was amusing enough to p، along in full; it’s Nashville & K.R. Co. (Tenn. 1902):

This is an action for damages a،nst the railroad company for running over and ،ing three geese of the value of $1.50. The owner of the geese lived about one mile from the railroad, but permitted them to run at large, and they went upon the railroad track near a public crossing. The engineer blew the whistle and rang the bell for the crossing, but there is no proof that he rang the bell or sounded the alarm for the geese. Whether the geese knew of this failure to whistle for them does not appear.

We think there is no evidence of recklessness or common-law negligence s،wn in the case, and the only question is whether a goose is an animal or obstruction in the sense of the statute, which requires the alarm whistle to be sounded, and ،kes put down, and every possible means employed to stop the train and prevent an accident when an animal or obstruction appears on the track. It is evident that this provision is designed, not only to protect animals on the track, but also the p،engers and employés upon the train from accidents and injury. It would not seem that a goose was such an obstruction as would cause the derailment of a train, if run over.

It is true, a goose has animal life, and, in the broadest sense, is an animal; but we think the statute does not require the stopping of trains to prevent running over birds, such as geese, chickens, ducks, pigeons, canaries, or other birds that may be kept for pleasure or profit. Birds have wings to move them quickly from places of danger, and it is presumed that they will use them (a violent presumption, perhaps, in the case of a goose, an animal which appears to be loath to stoop from its dignity to even escape a p،ing train). But the line must be drawn somewhere, and we are of the opinion that the goose is a proper bird to draw it at. We do not mean to say that in the case of recklessness and common-law negligence there might not be a recovery for ،ing geese, chickens, ducks, or other fowls, for that case is not presented.

Snakes, frogs, and fi،ng worms, when upon railroad tracks, are, to some extent, obstructions; but it was not contemplated by the statute that for such obstructions as these trains s،uld be stopped, and p،engers delayed….

منبع: https://reason.com/volokh/2024/02/22/geese-and-trains/