New York Central Railroad Company v. Sarah White

Decision Date01 March 1916
Docket NumberNo. 320,320
Citation61 L.Ed. 667,243 U.S. 188,37 S.Ct. 247
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 188-190 intentionally omitted] Messrs. William L. Visscher, Frank V. Whiting, Robert E. Whalen, and H. Leroy Austin for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. Harold J. Hinman and E. Clarence Aiken, and Mr. Egburt E. Woodbury, Attorney General of New York, for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Pitney delivered the opinion of the court:

A proceeding was commenced by defendant in error before the Workmen's Compensation Commission of the State of New York, established by the Workmen's Compensation Law of that state,1 to recover compensation from the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company for the death of her husband, Jacob White, who lost his life September 2, 1914, through an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment under that company. The Commission awarded compensation in accordance with the terms of the law; its award was affirmed, without opinion, by the appellate division of the supreme court for the third judicial department, whose order was affirmed by the court of appeals, without opinion. 169 App. Div. 903, 152 N. Y. Supp. 1149, 216 N. Y. 653, 110 N. E. 1051. Federal questions having been saved, the present writ of error was sued out by the New York Central Railroad Company, successor, through a consolidation of corporations, to the rights and liabilities of the employing company. The writ was directed to the appellate division, to which the record and proceedings had been remitted by the court of appeals. Sioux Remedy Co. v. Cope, 235 U. S. 197, 200, 59 L. ed. 193, 196, 35 Sup. Ct. Rep. 57.

The errors specified are based upon these contentions: (1) that the liability, if any, of the railroad company for the death of Jacob White, is defined and limited exclusively by the provisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act of April 22, 1908, chap. 149, 35 Stat. at L. 65, Comp. Stat. 1913, § 8657, and (2) that to award compensation to defendant in error under the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Law would deprive plaintiff in error of its property without due process of law, and deny to it the equal protection of the laws, in contravention of the 14th Amendment.

The first point assumes that the deceased was employed in interstate commerce at the time he received the fatal injuries. According to the record, he was a night watchman, charged with the duty of guarding tools and materials intended to be used in the construction of a new station and new tracks upon a line of interstate railroad. The Commission found, upon evidence fully warranting the finding, that he was on duty at the time, and at a place not outside of the limits prescribed for the performance of his duties; that he was not engaged in interstate commerce; and that the injury received by him and resulting in his death was an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of his employment.

The admitted fact that the new station and tracks were designed for use, when finished, in interstate commerce, does not bring the case within the Federal act. The test is, 'Was the employee at the time of the injury engaged in interstate transportation, or in work so closely related to it as to be practically a part of it?' Shanks v. Delaware, L. & W. R. Co. 239 U. S. 556, 558, 60 L. ed. 436, 438, L.R.A.1916C, 797, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 188. Decedent's work bore no direct relation to interstate transportation, and had to do solely with construction work, which is clearly distinguishable, as was pointed out in Pedersen v. Delaware, L. & W. R. Co. 229 U. S. 146, 152, 57 L. ed. 1125, 1128, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 648, Ann. Cas. 1914C, 153, 3 N. C. C. A. 779. And see Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Harrington, 241 U. S. 177, 180, 60 L. ed. 941, 942, 36 Sup. Ct. Rep. 517, 11 N. C. C. A. 992; Raymond v. Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co. this day decided [243 U. S. 43, 61 L. ed. 583, 37 Sup. Ct. Rep. 268]. The first point, therefore, is without basis in fact.

We turn to the constitutional question. The Workmen's Compensation Law of New York establishes forty-two groups of hazardous employments, defines 'employee' as a person engaged in one of these employments upon the premises, or at the plant, or in the course of his employment away from the plant of his employer, but excluding farm laborers and domestic servants; defines 'employment' as including employment only in a trade, business, or occupation carried on by the employer for pecuniary gain, 'injury' and 'personal injury' as meaning only accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of employment, and such disease or infection as naturally and unavoidably may result therefrom; and requires every employer subject to its provisions to pay or provide compensation according to a prescribed schedule for the disability or death of his employee resulting from an accidental personal injury arising out of and in the course of the employment, without regard to fault as a cause, except where the injury is occasioned by the wilful intention of the injured employee to bring about the injury or death of himself or of another, or where it results solely from the intoxication of the injured employee while on duty, in which cases neither the injured employee nor any dependent shall receive compensation. By § 11 the prescribed liability is made exclusive, except that, if an employer fail to secure the payment of compensation as provided in § 50, an injured employee, or his legal representative, in case death results from the injury, may, at his option, elect to claim compensation under the act, or to maintain an action in the courts for damages, and in such an action it shall not be necessary to plead or prove freedom from contributory negligence, nor may the defendant plead as a defense that the injury was caused by the negligence of a fellow servant, that the employee assumed the risk of his employment, or that the injury was due to contributory negligence. Compensation under the act is not regulated by the measure of damages applied in negligence suits, but, in addition to providing surgical, or other like treatment, it is based solely on loss of earning power, being graduated according to the average weekly wages of the injured employee and the character and duration of the disability, whether partial or total, temporary or permanent; while in case the injury causes death, the compensation is known as a death benefit, and includes funeral expenses, not exceeding $100, payments to the surviving wife (or dependent husband) during widowhood (or dependent widowerhood) of a percentage of the average wages of the deceased, and if there be a surviving child or children under the age of eighteen years an additional percentage of such wages for each child until that age is reached. There are provisions invalidating agreements by employees to waive the right to compensation, prohibiting any assignment, release, or commutation of claims for compensation or benefits except as provided by the act, exempting them from the claims of creditors, and requiring that the compensation and benefits shall be paid only to employees or their dependents.

Provision is made for the establishment of a Workmen's Compensation Commission2 with administrative and judicial functions, including authority to pass upon claims to compensation on notice to the parties interested. The award or decision of the Commission is made subject to an appeal, on questions of law only, to the appellate division of the supreme court for the third department, with an ultimate appeal to the court of appeals in cases where such an appeal would lie in civil actions. A fund is created, known as 'the state insurance fund,' for the purpose of insuring employers against liability under the law, and assuring to the persons entitled the compensation thereby provided. The fund is made up primarily of premiums received from employers, at rates fixed by the Commission in view of the hazards of the different classes of employment, and the premiums are to be based upon the total pay roll and number of employees in each class at the lowest rate consistent with the maintenance of a solvent state insurance fund and the creation of a reasonable surplus and reserve. Elaborate provisions are laid down for the administration of this fund. By § 50, each employer is required to secure compensation to his employees in one of the following ways: (1) By insuring and keeping insured the payment of such compensation in the state fund; or (2) through any stock corporation or mutual association authorized to transact the business of workmen's compensation insurance in the state; or (3) 'by furnishing satisfactory proof to the Commission of his financial ability to pay such compensation for himself, in which case the Commission may, in its discretion, require the deposit with the Commission of securities of the kind prescribed in § 13 of the Insurance Law, in an amount to be determined by the Commission, to secure his liability to pay the compensation provided in this chapter.' If an employer fails to comply with this section, he is made liable to a penalty in an amount equal to the pro rata premium that would have been payable for insurance in the state fund during the period of noncompliance; besides which, his injured employees or their dependents are at liberty to maintain an action for damages in the courts, as prescribed by § 11.

In a previous year, the legislature enacted a compulsory compensation law applicable to a limited number of specially hazardous employments, and requiring the employer to pay compensation without regard to fault. Laws 1910, chap. 674. This was held by the court of appeals in Ives v. South Buffalo R. Co. 201 N. Y. 271, 34 L.R.A.(N.S.) 162, 94 N. E. 431, Ann. Cas. 1...

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