Page images


court very properly argued that "the power of the State to enact laws to suppress gambling can not be doubted, and, as a means to that end, we have no doubt of its power to provide that the owner of the building in which gambling is conducted, who knowingly looks on and permits such gambling, can be made liable in his property which is thus used, to pay a judgment against those who won the money, as is provided in the statute. * *The liability of the owner of the building to make good the loss sustained, under the circumstances set forth in the statute, was clearly part of the means resorted to by the legislature for the purpose of suppressing the evil in the interests of the public morals and welfare." (p. 224.) (p. 224.) A more cogent illustration of the undoubted application of the police power can not be found. In the interest of good morals it is not merely the right but the duty of the State to suppress gambling, and the case, so far from being an authority for the idea of liability without fault, proceeds directly upon the theory that the owner was at fault in permitting his premises to be used for an illegal purpose. Then there is the case of Bertholf v. O'Reilly, 74 N. Y. 509, in which this court upheld the so-called "civil damage act" which gave to every husband, wife, parent, guardian, employer or other person who should be injured in person or property or means of support by any intoxication of any person, a right of action against any person who by selling or giving away intoxicating liquors caused the intoxication, in whole or in part, and subjecting to the same liability any person or persons owning or renting or permitting the occupation of any building or premises with knowledge that intoxicating liquors were to be sold thereon. In that case, as in the case of Marvin v. Trout, supra, the controlling principle was that the State had the right to prohibit and, therefore, the absolute right to control. As Judge Andrews pertinently observed, "the right of the State to regulate the traffic in intoxicating liquors, within its limits, has been exercised from the foundation of the Government, and is not open to question. The State may prescribe the persons by whom and the conditions under which the traffic may be carried on. It may impose upon those who act under its license such liabilities and penalties as in its judgment are proper to secure society against the dangers of the traffic and individuals against injuries committed by intoxicated persons under the influence of or resulting from their intoxication." (p. 517) The defendant in that case, it is true, was not the licensee, but he had rented his premises for the traffic in intoxicating liquors knowing that they were to be so used. Upon that feature of the case Judge Andrews said: "The liability imposed upon the landlord for the acts of the tenant is not a new principle in legislation. His liability only arises when he has consented that the premises may be used as a place for the sale of liquors. He selects the tenant, and he may, without violating any constitutional provision, be made responsible for the tenant's acts connected, with the use of the leased property.' (p. 525) That is very far from being a case of liability without fault. The enactment of the "civil damage act" was clearly within the police power, and the liability imposed did not deprive either the tenant or the landlord of "due process of law," for each had the right to his day in court and an opportunity to disprove the facts upon which the statutory right of action depended. Let us suppose, however, that the statute had gone so far as to provide that the mere fact of selling

liquor by the tenant, or the mere fact of renting the premises for that purpose by the landlord, should be deemed conclusive proof of the intoxication of the person to whom the liquor was sold, and of the fact that the person bringing the suit had suffered injury thereby, so that the person sued could not be heard to deny or disprove his responsibility for the intoxication or the injuries resulting therefrom. Would that be "due process of law?" Suppose that the Ohio statute, which was also clearly within the general scope of the police power, had imposed upon the landlord a liability for money lost in gambling on his premises without his knowledge of the purpose for which the building was used, and had declared that evidence of the mere loss of the money should be sufficient to sustain a judgment against him. That would clearly be a case of liability without fault; but what court, controlled by constitutional limitations, would render such a judgment? We are referred to the case of Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Zernecke, 183 U. S. 582, as an illustration of liability without fault. We think that case has no analogy to the case at bar. There a statute of Nebraska imposed upon railroad corporations a liability for all injuries to passengers except when occasioned by the criminal negligence of the person injured, or when the injury was sustained in the violation of some express rule or regulation of the corporation. The point decided in that case was that this rule of liability was a part of the very statute under which the corporation took its charter. The defendant in the case at bar is a railroad corporation, and as such may be subject to State regulations which would not apply to other corporations or to individuals, but we are not now concerned with that question, since the statute before us has reference to employers in their relations with their employees, and not to railroads in their service to the public.

In support of this new statute we are also asked to consider the supposed analogies of the law of deodands; the common-law liability of the husband for the torts of his wife; the liability of the master for the acts of his servant, and the liability of a ship for the care and maintenance of sick or disabled seamen. From the historical point of view, these subjects might be very entertainingly elaborated, but for the practical purposes of this discussion they may be very briefly disposed of. If the law of deodands was ever imported into this country it has never, to our knowledge, found expression in a single statute or judicial decision. It was one of those primitive conceptions of justice under which a chattel which caused the death of a human being was forfeited to the King. We are unable to see what bearing it can have upon the question whether, under our constitutions, it is due process of law to render a man liable for damages when he has been guilty of no fault. Quite as far-fetched seems the argument based upon the common-law liability of the husband for the torts of his wife. Under the common-law unity of husband and wife, the latter was presumed to act under the compulsion of the former; and the wife could never be sued alone. As the marriage vested the husband with the personal property of the wife, it was simply logical that he should pay her obligations. So with the liability of the master for the acts of his servant, the whole theory is expressed in the maxim qui facit per alium facit per se. He who acts through another acts himself. How do these illustrations support the principle of liability without fault? Could a husband or master be held

liable under the common law when the wife or servant had been guilty of no wrong? Would the common law have denied to the husband or master the right to provide that no tort had been committed by the wife or servant? The admiralty cases of The Osceola, 189 U. S. 158, The City of Alexandria, 17 Fed. Rep. 399, and the case of Scarff v. Metcalf, 107 N. Y. 211, seem to us equally inapplicable as authorities for the proposition that the law recognizes liability without fault. It is common knowledge that the contracts and services of seamen are exceptional in character. A seaman engages for the voyage. He is subject to physical discipline, and exposed to hardships and dangers peculiar to the sea. He is, in effect, a coadventurer with the master, and shares in the risks of shipwreck and capture, often losing his wages by casualties which do not affect workmen on land. For these and many other obvious reasons the maritime law has wisely and benevolently built up peculiar rights and privileges for the protection of the seaman which are not cognizable in the common law. When he is sick or injured he is entitled to be cared for at the expense of the ship, and for the failure of the master to perform his duty in this regard, the ship or the owner is liable. That is a right given to the seaman, and a duty enjoined upon the master, by the plainest dictates of justice, which arises out of the necessities of the case; and, because of the reason of the rule, the right and duty cease when the contract has terminated and the seaman has been returned to the port of shipment or discharge, or has been furnished with means to do so. But beyond this duty on the part of the master or owner, there seems to be no liability whatever for injuries sustained by the seaman in the course of his work. We think it may confidently be asserted that within the whole range of the maritime law there will be found no rule which renders master, owner or ship liable in damages for an injury sustained by the seaman without fault on the part of anyone, or without any fault except his own. The case of Scarff v. Metcalf, 107 N. Y. 211, was not disposed of upon any such theory, but was based upon the neglect of the master to perform the duty of caring for the injured seaman imposed by the maritime law. The legal status of seamen is clearly illustrated in the case of Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, where it was held that compulsory personal service of a seaman in performance of his contract was not a violation of the thirteenth amendment to the Federal Constitution forbidding slavery or involuntary servitude. In that case the learned justice who wrote for the court suggested that enforced service under a seaman's contract was not involuntary within the Constitution, although the contract would not be enforced by the courts. But in the later case of Clyatt v. United States, 197 U. S. 207, it was held that peonage or enforced service, whether under a voluntary contract of service or not, was involuntary servitude and forbidden by the Constitution in all cases save those arising out of the exceptional relations of the seaman to his ship, the child to its parents and the apprentice to his master. In the review in Robertson v. Baldwin, supra, of the various decisions in admiralty, it is made quite clear that the courts have always regarded seamen as irresponsible to a degree which makes them incapable of fully protecting their own rights. With the power given to the employer of seamen to compel specific performance of their contracts, there are imposed certain obligations unknown to any other relation. It is a relation which rests on

affirmative law and not on natural right. We can find no analogy between a case arising out of such a relation and one in which an adult of sound mind and capable of freely contracting for himself voluntarily enters upon employment from which he is at liberty to withdraw whenever he will.

Great reliance is placed upon the case of St. Louis & San Francisco Ry. Co. v. Mathews, 165 U. S. 1, in support of the contention that there may be liability where there is no delinquency. That was an action brought by an owner of land adjoining the defendant's railroad to recover damages for the destruction of his dwelling house and other buildings, caused by fire which spread from sparks emitted by the defendant's locomotives. The action was brought under a statute of the State of Missouri which provided that "each railroad corporation, owning or operating a railroad in this State, shall be responsible in damages to every person and corporation whose property may be injured or destroyed by fire communicated, directly or indirectly, by locomotive engines in use upon the railroad owned or operated by such railroad corporation; and each such railroad corporation shall have an insurable interest in the property upon the route of the railroad owned or operated by it, and may procure insurance thereon in its own behalf, for its protection against such damages." The statute was upheld as being within the legislative power of the State. That decision is amply supported by a number of reasons which have no application to the controversy at bar. To begin with, the constitution of Missouri contained a clause, which was in force when the railroad company obtained its charter, providing that "the exercise of the police power of the State shall never be abridged, or so construed as to permit corporations to conduct their business in such manner as to infringe the equal rights of individuals, or the general well-being of the State." (Missouri const., art. 12, sec. 5.) Another ample reason is found in the fact that railroads alone "have the privilege of taking a narrow strip of land from each owner, without his consent, along the route selected for the track, and of traversing the same at all hours of the day and night, and at all seasons whether wet or dry, with locomotive engines that scatter fire along the margin of the land not taken, thereby subjecting all combustible property to extraordinary hazard of loss." (Grissell v. Housatonic R. R. Co., 54 Conn. 447.) Then, again, "the right to use the agencies of fire and steam in the movement of trains is derived from legislation of the State; and it certainly can not be denied that it is for the State to determine what safeguards must be used to prevent the escape of fire, and to define the extent of the liability for fires resulting from the operation of trains by means of steam locomotives. This is a matter within State control." (Hartford Ins. Co. v. Chi., Mil. & St. Paul Ry. Co., 62 Fed. Rep. 904.) A legislature may, if it chooses, make it a condition of the right to run carriages propelled by the agency of fire, that the corporation employing them shall be responsible for all injuries which fire may cause. (Ingersoll & Quigley v. Stockbridge & Pittsfield R. R. Co., 8 Allen 438; Grand Trunk Ry. Co. v. Richardson, 9 U. S. 454.) And, finally, these statutes are designed to protect the rights of those who have no contractual relations to the corporations which inflict the injury. In such a case, when both parties are equally faultless, the legislature may properly consider it to be just that the duty of insuring

85048-Bull. 92—11- -18

private property against loss or injury caused by the use of the dangerous instruments should rest upon the railroad company, which employs the instruments and creates the peril for its own profit, rather. than upon the owner of the property who has no control over or interest in these instruments. Quite aside from the considerations which support such a statutory liability against railroad corporations, it may be added that it is in no sense an extension of the rule of the common law to modern conditions, but in reality a return to the original common-law doctrine under which every person who permitted fire started by him to escape beyond his house or close was liable to every one who suffered loss or injury thereby. The severity of that early English rule was moderated by numerous statutes, among which are 6 Anne and 14 Geo. III. As to these two lastmentioned statutes it has been held that they became by adoption a part of the common law of this State, under which neither individuals nor corporations are liable for escaping fire unless there is negligence. [Cases cited.] The cited cases arising out of injuries inflicted by animals of known dangerous or vicious propensities, and the liability which has often been imposed for the maintenance of private nuisances, we shall not discuss, for we think they are governed by well-settled principles which clearly have no application to the questions now before us.

In the addenda to the instructive brief of the counsel for the commission our attention is called to three decisions of the Federal Supreme Court which have been but recently decided and not yet officially reported. (Noble State Bank v. Haskell, 219 U. S. 104; Assaria State Bank v. Dolley, 219 U. S. 121, and Engel v. O'Malley, 219 U. S. 128.) These cases, it is contended, strongly support the validity of the legislation which we are condemning because, as counsel asserts, they go directly to the ultimate question: "Is the act an unreasonable regulation of the status of employment?" We have tried to make it clear that in our judgment this statute is not a law of regulation. It contains not a single provision which can be said to make for the safety, health or morals of the employees therein specified, nor to impose upon the enumerated employers any duty or obligation designed to have that effect. It does not affect the status of employment at all, but writes into the contract between the employer and employee, without the consent of the former, a liability on his part which never existed before and to which he is permitted to interpose practically no defense, for he can only escape liability when the employee is injured through his own willful misconduct. That is a defense which needs no legislative sanction, since it would be abhorrent to the most primitive notions of justice to permit one to impose liability for his willfully self-inflicted injuries upon another who is wholly free from responsibility for them. The case of Engel v. O'Malley, supra, is so clearly distinguishable from the case at bar that we need only state the facts to mark the contrast. The Engel Case arose under a New York statute which provides that individuals and firms shall not engage in the business of receiving deposits for safe keeping or for transmission, or for any other purpose, or in the business of banking, without first obtaining from the State comptroller a license. The same statute further provides that applicants for such a license must pay a prescribed fee, give bonds and submit to other restrictions. We have already passed upon the constitutionality of certain parts

« PreviousContinue »