Zancanelli v. Central Coal & Coke Co.

Citation173 P. 981,25 Wyo. 511
Decision Date11 July 1918
Docket Number933
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming

ERROR to the District Court, Sweetwater County; HON. JOHN R ARNOLD, Judge.

Action by M. Zancanelli to recover damages from Central Coal & Coke Company for personal injuries sustained while in its service due to the negligence of the company.


Fred W Johnson and Walter A. Muir, for plaintiff in error.

The Workmen's Compensation Law seeks to take private property of persons engaged in a lawful enterprise not by judicial action, but by legislative declaration, thus confusing the republican form of government and violating Section 4, Art IV, of the Constitution of the United States, and for that reason is void. (Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386.) The government cannot be deemed to be free when the rights of property are left dependent upon the will of a legislative body without restraint. (Wilkinson v. Leland, 2 Peters, 627.) Under out system of government the division of powers is made distinct and one branch is not permitted to encroach upon the powers confided to the others. (Kilbourn v. Thompson, 13 Otto, 168.) The act also excludes the right of trial by jury and thereby is in violation of the seventh amendment of the Federal Constitution. The right of trial by jury is a fundamental principle of the common law. (Parsons v. Bedford, 13 Peters, 433; Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581.) The act violates the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States in requiring employers engaged in certain and enumerated occupations to contribute to a fund for the benefit of injured employees without regard to any wrongful act of the employer, making him liable from the mere fact that he employs the person injured, thus depriving him of his property without due process of law and denying him the equal protection of the laws. Due process of law is an administration of the law of the land and an opportunity to be heard as to liability under the basic principles of law. (Dartmouth v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 517; State v Strasburg, 60 Wash. 106, 110 P. 1020; Joliffe v. Brown, 14 Wash. 155, 44 P. 149.) No principle involving the public health, safety, morals or general welfare is presented by the act upon which it may be sustained as a valid exercise of police power. (Lochnor v. New York, 198 U.S. 45; Louisville & N. R. R. Co. v. Baldwin, 5 So. 311, 85 Ala. 619.) An act creating liability for the killing of live stock without regard to negligence or wrongful act was held to be void. (Wadsworth v. U. P. R. R., 18 Colo. 600, 33 P. 515; see also Denver Ry. v. Outcalt, 31 P. 177; Gulf Railway v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150; Zeigler v. Southern and Northern Ry. Co., 58 Ala. 594; Birmingham v. Parsons, 13 So. 602, 100 Ala. 662; Gibbs v. Tally, 65 P. 970; Railway Co. v. Morris, 65 Ala. 193; Bilenberg v. Railway Co., 8 Mont. 271, 20 P. 314; Bennett v. Ford, 47 Ind. 264; Lewis v. R. Co., 19 N.W. 744; Colon v. Lisk, 47 N.E. 302; Calif. Co. v. Sanitary Works, 126 F. 29; State v. Dalton, 46 A. 234; State v. Redmon, 14 L. R. A. N. S. 229; Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 137.) The case of Nobel State Bank v. Haskell, 219 U.S. 104, dealt with a public business, viz.: the regulation of banking. It did not enunciate a wider principle. (Engel v. O'Malley, 219 U.S. 128.) Compulsory compensation is not a thing which the interests of the public generally require. This is shown by the elective clauses in many other acts approved by the courts. (Bargins v. Falk Company, 147 Wis. 327, 133 N.W. 209; State v. Creamer, 85 Ohio State, 349, 97 N.E. 602; Sexton v. Newark District Telegraph Company, 86 A. 451; Deibeikis v. Link-Belt Company, 261 Ill. 454, 104 N.E. 211; In re. Opinion of Judges, 209 Mass. 607, 96 N.E. 308; Kentucky Co. v. Board, 170 S.W. 1166; Cunningham v. Northwestern Improvement Company, 119 P. 554; Matheson v. Street Railway Co., 148 N.W. 71; Ives v. South Buffalo Railroad Company, 201 N.Y. 271, 94 N.E. 431; State ex rel. v. Clausen, 117 P. 1101; Shade v. Ash Grove Portland Lime & Cement Co., 144 P. 249.) A bulletin issued by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 23rd, 1913, shows twenty-two states having compensation laws, of which nineteen are elective, two compulsory with elective features and but one compulsory. The act is unconstitutional in requiring compensation irrespective of negligence, in the payment of contributions to a common fund to pay for injuries caused by the negligence of other employers, thus leaving no inducement for the exercise of care for the safety of employees. The right to be protected from injury caused by the negligence of an employer is a property right, which this act takes away without due process of law. While compulsory acts have been sustained in the states of New York, Washington, Montana and California, and recently by a decision of the United States Supreme Court, in Mountain Timber Company v. Washington, 243 U.S. 219, 37 Supreme Court Reporter, 260, 267, by a divided court, it cannot be said that the weight of opinion preponderates in favor of such a law; the act is objectionable in that it does not conform to the Wyoming Constitution in the classification of employments; it is further objectionable in not allowing compensation for the first ten days of disability and in conflict with the Constitution requiring the Legislature to provide by law for the compensation of each person injured. While Section 12 provides that the employer may employ counsel, the employee is deprived of that right, being required to rely upon the services of the county attorney, or accept services of an attorney appointed by the court who cannot be paid more than $ 50.00. The schedules of compensation are scarcely more than one-half of the rates allowed in other states. To sustain the act as an exercise of police power, the rates must be shown to be reasonable, whereas the rates prescribed by this act are grossly unreasonable. Injured employees are not permitted to receive any portion of their compensation while under the care of a physician, except at the option of a physician, manifestly an unfair and unjust provision. Section 26 deprives injured employees of the right of privileged communications between physician and patient. The act is void, it being in conflict with the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution of the United States and of the Wyoming Constitution set out in the pleadings.

T. S. Taliaferro, Jr., for defendant in error.

Herbert V. Lacey and John W. Lacey, appearing as amici curiae, and also representing certain employers.

For many years it has been felt more and more that the question of compensation for persons engaged in hazardous employment should receive a new investigation and if possible a new adjustment. Many distinctions and refinements had grown up in the administration of the common law remedies, which necessarily excluded recoveries of damage by those injured through the negligence of a foreman or superior servant, or through the negligence of a fellow servant of the same rank as themselves or had assumed certain risks. The negligence rule excluded a far larger list. Complicated machinery and appliances had created hazards in industry outside the ordinary class of injuries caused by negligence of anyone; a class of injuries constantly increasing in number. The result of it all was that the law in a vast majority of cases left the servant and his family to bear the entire burden of his injury. The situation caused a great amount of litigation between injured servants and their employers resulting in strained relations, and even so, the proportion of injured servants who were able to obtain any remedy whatever was small. The public, burdened by incapacitated servants, had a vital interest in the matter since many dependent families required support by public taxation. It is desirable to eliminate friction between employer and his servants and in having industry proceed at normal capacity in the general interest of prosperity and public well being. It became apparent that each industry should care for its own burdens even though the consuming public should be required to bear a just portion of the loss. Compensation acts are an expression of the great need of reform in industrial relations, many of the states having enacted laws of this class without express constitutional authority and these laws have in many instances been tested in the state courts of last resort. The case nearest to the case at bar was tried and determined by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington and afterwards affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States. While the questions arising in the Washington case more nearly resemble the controversy here, a marked distinction is observable in that the Constitution of the State of Washington had not authorized the enactment of a Workmen's Compensation Law. In Wyoming the people through their Constitution have not only authorized the Legislature to enact such a measure, but commanded that it be done. Moreover the Washington law, while compelling the careful employer to share in the burden of the losses caused by the careless employer, provides no reward in the way of decreased cost such as should be awarded him for his care, and the careless employer suffers no penalty in the way of increased cost, such as should be visited upon him as a penalty for his carelessness. These differences make a very great difference in the constitutionality of the Wyoming statute. Section 16 of the Wyoming law makes it plain that each employer bears only his own burdens and when he keeps the losses caused by his own business fully paid up with the margin in the treasury required by the Act, he is not obliged to make any further payments into the treasury, and the margin...

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