McGuire v. Chi., B. & Q. R. Co.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation131 Iowa 340,108 N.W. 902
PartiesMCGUIRE v. CHICAGO, B. & Q. R. CO.
Decision Date14 July 1906


Appeal from District Court, Appanoose County; M. A. Roberts, Judge.

The opinion states the case. Reversed.

Ladd and Bishop, JJ., dissenting.

C. F. Howell and C. H. Elgin, for appellant.

H. H. Trimble, Palmer Trimble, F. S. Payne, and J. W. Blythe, for appellee.


The plaintiff's petition at law alleges that, while in the service of the defendantrailway company as brakeman and while in the exercise of reasonable care for his own safety, he was seriously and permanently injured by reason of the negligence of a co-employé in the management of the train on which he was employed, and he asks to recover damages in the sum of $2,000. As a bar to the plaintiff's right of recovery the defendant alleges that at the time of the accident in which plaintiff was injured he was a member of the Burlington Relief Department, an association organized by the defendant and its employés (the rules and regulations of which are made a part of the answer), and that by reason of such membership the plaintiff became entitled to recover certain benefits, and that he did in fact receive from the association on that account the aggregate sum of $822. It is further alleged that by the terms of the contract embodied in the Relief Department regulations plaintiff had an election to accept said benefits, or to waive them and insist upon his claim against the defendant for damages, but he was not entitled to both, and that by reason of his acceptance of such benefits he is now estopped to recover anything in this action. The answer further asserts that the provisions of Code, § 2071, as amended by the Twenty-Seventh General Assembly (Acts 27th Assem. p. 33, c. 49), have no effect to bar or estop the defendant from relying upon the defense above stated, because said amendment is in contravention of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Iowa. A demurrer to the answer having been overruled, the plaintiff appeals.

The questions suggested by the record and argued by counsel may be condensed as follows: (1) Assuming the truth of the matters pleaded in the petition and answer, is the case one calling for the application of the statutory provision upon which plaintiff relies? (2) If the foregoing question be answered in the affirmative, is Code, § 2071, as it now stands, a valid exercise of legislative power, or is it void as being in contravention of the Constitution, national or state?

1. As originally enacted Code, § 2071, was in words as follows: “Every corporation operating a railway shall be liable for all damages sustained by any person, including the employés of such corporation, in consequence of the neglect of the agents, or by any mismanagement of the engineers or other employés thereof, and in consequence of the willful wrongs whether of commission or omission of such agents, engineers or other employés when such wrongs are in any manner connected with the use and operation of any railway on or about which they shall be employed, and no contract which restricts such liability shall be legal or binding.” The amendment to which reference has been made adds to said section the following: “Nor shall any contract of insurance relief, benefit or indemnity in case of injury or death, entered into prior to the injury, between the person so injured and such corporation or any other person or association acting for such corporation, nor shall the acceptance of any such relief, insurance, benefit or indemnity by the person injured, his widow, heirs or legal representatives after the injury, from such corporation, person or association, constitute any bar or defense to any cause of action brought under the provisions of this section; but nothing contained herein shall be construed to prevent or invalidate any settlement for damages between the parties subsequent to the injuries received.” The events leading up to the adoption of this amendment are matters of common knowledge. Subsequent to the enactment of Code, § 2071, in its original form, a relief department scheme for the payment of benefits to injured employés was organized by the appellee herein; one of the provisions or regulations of the department being that the bringing of suit by a member for damages should suspend his right to receive further benefits until the suit was discontinued, and the acceptance of the benefits should operate as a release and satisfaction of all claims for damages. Prior to the adoption of the amendment it was held by this court that the relief contract was not void as being against public policy, and employés of the railway who accepted benefits from the association on account of injuries received in the company's service were held to be barred from the recovery of damages. Donald v. Railroad Co., 93 Iowa, 284, 61 N. W. 971, 33 L. R. A. 492;Maine v. Railroad Co., 109 Iowa, 260, 70 N. W. 630, 80 N. W. 315. Upon the announcement of the first of the cited decisions the matter of further legislation to restrict or prohibit contracts of this nature became a topic of very general discussion throughout the state, and in apparent response to the public sentiment manifested, the Twenty-Eighth General Assembly enacted the amendment quoted above. That it was intended to invalidate defenses like that which is here pleaded, and to permit an employé injured by the neglect of the corporation or its servants to recover his damages, notwithstanding the terms of his membership in the Relief Department or the receipt of benefits thereunder, seems to be very clear from the language employed. To the extent that the legislative will is here expressed, the question of public policy which has been argued by counsel, is eliminated; for the statute, if constitutional, must stand as the authoritative expression of the public policy of the state, which the courts are bound to observe and enforce.

But it is said in behalf of appellee that the amendment, even if valid, has reference to such relief contracts only as operate to “restrict the liability” of the company, and that this court, by its decisions under the statute as it stood before the amendment, has already held contracts similar to the one now before us not to be of that character. This argument is reinforced by the further proposition that, if the amendment is to be construed as enlarging the scope of the section and applied to cases not before within its prohibition, it must be held unconstitutional, because the title, “An act to amend Code, § 2071,” does not sufficiently set forth the subject of the legislation. It will be conceded that, to be of any effect, an amendment to a statute must have some relevancy to the original act, and the two are to be read together in seeking to discover the legislative will and purpose. But there is no rule of interpretation requiring us to give the amended statute a meaning which differs in any degree from that which would have been given it, had the matter of amendment been made a part of the original act. In other words, unless the contrary intent is clearly indicated, the amended statute is to be construed as if the original statute had been repealed and a new and independent act in the amended form had been adopted. Holbrook v. Nichols, 36 Ill. 161;McKibben v. Lester, 9 Ohio St. 627;Farrell v. State, 54 N. J. Law, 421, 24 Atl. 725;Kamerick v. Castleman, 21 Mo. App. 587;Humphrey v. Parsons, 15 N. Y. 595;Conrad v. Nall, 24 Mich. 277. Now, Code, § 2071, as first enacted, making railway companies liable for injuries occasioned to a servant by the negligence of a fellow servant, gave to employés in that service an important right or measure of protection which did not before exist, and undertook to guard the same by a provision rendering void any agreement or stipulation in the contract of employment waiving or restricting the benefit of such statutes. This provision was stated in general terms only, and, when it was invoked to avoid the effect of appellee's relief department contract, this court decided, as we have already seen, that such contract did not restrict the statutory liability of the corporation and was therefore not affected by the prohibition. Thereafter, and by the amendment referred to, the Legislature added a clause enumerating certain specific acts, agreements, contracts, and stipulations which shall constitute no defense to an action brought for the enforcement of the statutory liability. That enumeration so accurately describes the contract upon which the appellee here relies that it would be a mere affectation to profess to misunderstand it. To place upon it the construction asked for by the appellee is to deprive the amendment of all force and effect. The section in its original form invalidated in general terms all contracts restricting the liability of the corporation; and if, as contended, the amendment must be construed as applying to such agreements for insurance, indemnity, or benefits as tend to “restrict” that liability within the meaning of the court's opinion in the Donald Case, then it neither increases nor diminishes the scope of the original provision, and the passage of the amending act was an idle and useless ceremony. Its words are not in the least obscure, its purpose is obvious, and unless we arbitrarily disregard the plain terms of the statute it must be construed in substantial accord with the appellant's contention. This being determined, we have next to inquire concerning its validity.

2. There is, in our judgment, no fatal defect in the title of the amending act. That act has but one purpose--the amendment of Code, § 2071, and that purpose is succinctly stated. It is a general rule that a title which simply names or describes an amending act as such, without stating the specific character or substance of the amendment, is sufficient. Morford v. Unger, 8 Iowa, 82;Iowa S. & L. v. Selby, 111...

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