Lewis v. Northern P. Ry. Co.

Citation92 P. 469,36 Mont. 207
PartiesLEWIS v. NORTHERN PAC. RY. CO. et al.
Decision Date23 November 1907
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

Appeal from District Court, Broadwater County; Frank Henry, Judge.

Action by S. L. Lewis against the Northern Pacific Railway Company and another for personal injuries. From a judgment for plaintiff, and an order denying a new trial, defendants appeal. Affirmed.

Wallace & Donnelly, for appellants.

Walsh & Nolan, for respondent.


This action was brought by the plaintiff to recover damages for the loss of his left hand, sustained while in the employ of the defendant company. It is alleged that the injury was occasioned by the negligence of the engineer of defendant's locomotive while drawing a train upon which the plaintiff was employed as a brakeman. Plaintiff bases his right of recovery upon the provisions of the act of the Legislature of 1903 (Sess. Laws 1903, p. 156) rendering railroad corporations liable for injuries caused by the negligence of engineers. The trial resulted in a verdict and judgment for plaintiff for $17,400. The defendant moved for a new trial upon the ground, among others, of excessive damages appearing to have been given under the influence of passion or prejudice. The court entered an order granting the motion unless plaintiff would within 10 days remit $7,400 of the verdict and judgment. This was done. Thereupon the motion was denied. The defendant has appealed from the judgment and order.

The specifications of error made in the brief are two: (1) The court erred in denying the motion of defendant for a directed verdict in its favor; and (2) the court erred in denying the defendant's motion for a new trial.

Under the first specification the contention is made that the act of the Legislature referred to is obnoxious to that clause of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States which prohibits the states from denying to any person within their respective jurisdictions the equal protection of the laws. The act is entitled: "An act to determine the liability of employers in this state for damages to employés." The first section thereof, which declares the rule applicable to railway corporations, provides "Every railway corporation including electric railway corporations, doing business in this state, shall be liable for all damages sustained by an employé thereof, within this state, without contributing negligence on his part, when such damages are caused by the negligence of any train dispatcher telegraph operator, superintendent, master mechanic, yardmaster, conductor, engineer, motorman or of any other employé who has superintendence of any stationary or hand signal." Conceding that it is within the legislative discretion to change the fellow servant rule of liability as declared under the common law, counsel insist that, since this provision mentions in terms railway corporations only, and does not include natural persons or other corporations engaged in operating railways, the former are subjected to penalties and liabilities which natural persons and other corporations engaged in the same pursuit are not subjected to.

Such statutes have frequently been the subject of controversy before the state and federal courts. A statute of Iowa provided: "Every railroad company shall be liable for all damages sustained by any person, including employés of the company in consequence of any neglect of the agents, or by any mismanagement of the engineer or other employés of the corporation to any person sustaining such damage." In the case of McAunich v. Mississippi, etc., R. R. Co., 20 Iowa, 338, the contention was made that this was obnoxious to the clause of the state Constitution requiring uniformity in the operation of general laws, and prohibiting the granting of special privileges or immunities to any citizen or class of citizens, which, upon the same terms, should not equally belong to all citizens. It was also contended that the statute was a special law, and therefore obnoxious to another constitutional provision prohibiting special or local laws. All of these contentions were overruled, the court holding that it applied to all railroad corporations alike, and was, therefore, of uniform operation throughout the state. In the later case of Bucklew v. Central Iowa Ry. Co., 64 Iowa, 603, 21 N.W. 103, the contention was made that the same or a similar statute was obnoxious to the clause of the federal Constitution now under consideration, for the reasons urged in McAunich v. Mississippi, etc., R. R. Co., supra; but the contention was held to be without merit, because the act applied to all corporations or persons engaged in operating railroads. The decision in McAunich v. Mississippi, etc., R. R. Co., supra, was held to be controlling, for the reasons that the provisions of the Constitution of Iowa, above referred to, were in effect the same as the clause of the fourteenth amendment, which is invoked here.

The validity of this law was again brought in question in the case of Herrick v. Minneapolis & St. L. Ry. Co., 31 Minn. 11, 16 N.W. 413, 47 Am. Rep. 771. The plaintiff, in the employ of the defendant in Iowa, was injured by the negligence of the engineer in charge of a train while he was engaged in coupling cars. An action for damages for the injury was instituted in Minnesota, which resulted in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff. The contention made in that case was the same as in this. The court disposed of it by saying: "If a state, in view of the peculiar nature of the service upon railroads, and the danger incident to it, shall, as a matter of state policy, require these corporations, which are the creatures of its statutes, to assume the risk of injuries to their servants resulting from the negligence of fellow servants also in their employ, we think they have a right to do so. Statutes imposing special duties and liabilities upon railroad companies are to be found on the statute books of almost every state, and, if general in their application to all such corporations, they are valid." On a second appeal the same contention was made and decided adversely to the defendant. 32 Minn. 435, 21 N.W. 471. On error to the Supreme Court of the United States this judgment was affirmed (Minneapolis & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Herrick, 127 U.S. 210, 8 S.Ct. 1176, 32 L.Ed. 109); the court basing its judgment on the case of Missouri P. Ry. Co. v. Mackey, 127 U.S. 205, 8 S.Ct. 1161, 32 L.Ed. 107, in which the same contention was made with reference to the statute of Kansas, enacted in 1874, and declaring: "Every railroad company organized or doing business in this state shall be liable for all damages done to any employé of such company in consequence of any negligence of its agents, or by any mismanagement of its engineers or other employés to any person sustaining such damage." After disposing of the contention that the act deprived the defendant of its property without due process of law, the court said of the contention made here: "The objection that the law of 1874 deprives the railroad companies of the equal protection of the laws is even less tenable than the one considered. It seems to rest upon the theory that legislation which is special in its character is necessarily within the constitutional inhibition; but nothing can be further from the fact. The greater part of all legislation is special, either in the objects sought to be attained by it, or in the extent of its application. *** And when legislation applies to particular bodies or associations, imposing upon them additional liabilities, it is not open to the objection that it denies to them the equal protection of the laws, if all persons brought under its influence are treated alike under the same conditions." Then, after citing authorities to the effect that corporations are persons within the meaning of the fourteenth amendment, the court continues: "But the hazardous character of the business of operating a railway would seem to call for special legislation with respect to railroad corporations, having for its object the protection of their employés, as well as the safety of the public. The business of other corporations is not subject to similar dangers to their employés, and no objections, therefore, can be made to the legislation on the ground of its making an unjust discrimination. It meets a particular necessity, and all railroad corporations are, without distinction, made subject to the same liabilities."

In Pittsburgh, C., C. & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Montgomery, 152 Ind. 1, 49 N.E. 582, 69 L. R. A. 875, 71 Am. St. Rep. 301 the Supreme Court of Indiana had before it an act of the Legislature of that state declaring that every railroad or other corporation, except municipal corporations, operating in the state, shall be liable for damages for personal injury suffered by any employé while in its service, the employé injured being in the exercise of due care, "where such injury was caused by the negligence of any person in the service of such corporation who has charge of any signal, telegraph office, switch yard, shop, roundhouse, locomotive engine, or train, upon a railway, or where such injury was caused by the negligence of any person, co-employé or fellow servant engaged in the same common service in any of the several departments of the service of any such corporation, the said person, co-employé or fellow servant, at the time acting in the place, and performing the duty of the corporation in that behalf, and the person so injured, obeying or conforming to the order of some superior at the time of such injury, having authority to direct." It was contended, as in McAunich v. Mississippi, etc., R. R. Co. and Bucklew v. Central Iowa Ry. Co., supra, that the act was in violation, not only...

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