« AnteriorContinuar »
v. Reardon, 184 N. Y. 431; People ex rel. Farrington v. Mensching, 187 N. Y. 8, 16), and that, we think, is the effect of this classification.
Another objection urged against the statute is that it violates section 2 of article 1 of our State constitution which provides that “The trial by jury in all cases in which it has been heretofore used shall remain inviolate forever.” This objection is aimed at the provisions of sections 219-a and 219-d of the statute, which relate to the "scale of compensation” and “settlement of disputes,” and has no reference to the fundamental question whether the attempt to impose upon the employer a liability when he is not at fault, constitutes a taking of property, without due process of law. In other words, the objection which we are now considering bears solely upon the question whether the two last-mentioned sections of the statute deprive the employer of the right to have a jury fix the amount which he shall pay when his liability to pay has been determined against him. If these provisions relating to compensation are to be construed as definitely fixing the amount which an employer must pay in every case where his liability is established by the statute, there can be no doubt that they constitute a legislative usurpation of one of the functions of a common-law jury. In all cases where there is a right to trial by jury there are two elements which necessarily enter into a verdict for the plaintiff: 1. The right to recover.
2. The amount of the recovery. It is as much the right of a defendant to have a jury assess the damages claimed against him as it is to have the question of his liability determined by the same body. (East Kingston v. Towle, 48 N. H. 57; Wadsworth v. Union Pacific Ry. Co., 18 Col. 600; Fairchild v. Rich, 68 Vt. 202.) This part of the statute, in its present form, has given rise to conflicting views among the members of the court, and, since the disposition of the questions which it suggests is not necessary to the decision of the case, we do not decide it.
Thus far we have considered only such portions of the statute as we deem to be clearly within the legislative power, and one as to which there is difference of opinion. This we have done because we desire to present no purely technical or hypercritical obstacles to any plan for the beneficent reformation of a branch of our jurisprudence in which, it may be conceded, reform is a consummation devoutly to be wished. In this spirit we have called attention to those features of the new statute which might be upheld as consonant with legislative authority under our constitutional limitations, as well as to the sections upon which we are in doubt. We turn now to the two objections which we regard as fatal to its validity.
This legislation is challenged as void under the fourteenth amendment to the Federal Constitution and under section 6, article 1, of our State constitution, which guarantee all persons against deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law. We shall not stop to dwell at length upon definitions of "life," "liberty," “property" and " due process of law.” They are simple and compre'” hensive in themselves and have been so often judicially defined that there can be no misunderstanding as to their meaning. Process of law in its broad sense means law in its regular course of administration through courts of justice, and that is but another way of saying that every man's right to life, liberty and property is to be disposed of in accordance with those ancient and fundamental principles which were in existence when our constitutions were adopted. “Due process of law implies the right of the person affected thereby to be present before the tribunal which pronounces judgment upon the question of life, liberty or property în its most comprehensive sense; to be heard by testimony or otherwise, and to have the right of controverting by proof every material fact which bears upon the question of right in the matter involved. If any question of fact or liability be conclusively presumed against him this is not due process of law.” (Ziegler v. S. & N. Ala. R. R. Co., 58 Ala. 594) Liberty has been authoritatively defined as “the right of one to use his faculties in all lawful ways, to live and work where he will, to earn his livelihood in any lawful calling, and to pursue any lawful trade or avocation” (Matter of Jacobs, 98 N. Y. 98, 106); and the right of property as “the right to acquire, possess and enjoy it in any way consistent with
rights of others and the just exactions and demands of the State. (Bertholf v. O'Reilly, 74 N. Y. 509, 515.) The several industries and occupations enumerated in the statute before us are concededly lawful within any of the numerous definitions which might be referred to, and have always been so. They are, therefore, under the constitutional protection. One of the inalienable rights of every citizen is to hold and enjoy his property until it is taken from him by due process of law. When our constitutions were adopted it was the law of the land that no man who was without fault or negligence could be held liable in damages for injuries sustained by another. That is still the law, except as to the employers enumerated in the new statute, and as to them it provides that they shall be liable to their employees for personal injury by accident to any workman arising out of and in the course of the employment which is caused in whole or in part, or is contributed to, by a necessary risk or danger of the employment or one inherent in the nature thereof, except that there shall be no liability in any case where the injury is caused in whole or in part by the serious and willful misconduct of the injured workman. It is conceded that this is a liability unknown to the common law and we think it plainly constitutes å deprivation of liberty and property under the Federal and State constitutions, unless its imposition can be justified under the police power which will be discussed under a separate head. In arriving at this conclusion we do not overlook the cogent economic and sociological arguments which are urged in support of the statute. There can be no doubt as to the theory of this law. It is based upon the proposition that the inherent risks of an employment should in justice be placed upon the shoulders of the employer, who can protect himself against loss by insurance and by such an addition to the price of his wares as to cast the burden ultimately upon the consumer; that indemnity to an injured employee should be as much a charge upon the business as the cost of replacing or repairing disabled or defective machinery, appliances or tools; that, under our present system, the loss falls immediately upon the employee who is almost invariably unable to bear it, and ultimately upon the community which is taxed for the support of the indigent; and that our present system is uncertain, unscientific and wasteful, and fosters a spirit of antagonism between employer and employee which it is to the interests of the State to remove. We have already admitted the strength of this appeal to a recognized and widely prevalent sentiment, but we think it is an appeal which must } to the people and not to the courts. The right of property rests not upon philosophical or scientific speculations nor upon the commendable impulses of benevolence or charity, nor yet upon the dictates of natural justice. The right has its foundation in the fundamental law. That can be changed by the people, but not by legislatures. In a government like ours theories of public good or necessity are often so plausible or sound as to command popular approval, but courts are not permitted to forget that the law is the only chart by which the ship of state is to be guided. Law as used in this sense means the basic law and not the very act of legislation which deprives the citizen of his rights, privileges or property. Any other view would lead to the absurdity that the constitutions protect only those rights which the legislatures do not take away. If such economic and sociologic arguments as are here advanced in support of this statute can be allowed to subvert the fundamental idea of property, then there is no private right entirely safe, because there is no limitation upon the absolute discretion of legislatures, and the guarantees of the constitution are a mere waste of words. (Wynehamer v. People, 13 N. Y. 378; Taylor v. Porter, 4 Ilill, 140, 145; Norman v. Heist, 5 Wats. & Serg. 193; Hake v. Henderson, 4 Dev. 15.) As stated by Judge Comstock in the case of Wynehamer v. People, “these constitutional safeguards, in all cases, require a judicial investigation, not to be governed by a law specially enacted to take away and destroy existing rights, but confined to the question whether, under the preexisting rule of conduct, the right in controversy has been lawfully acquired and is lawfully possessed" (p. 395). If the argument in support of this statute is sound we do not see why it can not logically be carried much farther. Poverty and misfortune from every cause are detrimental to the State. It would probably conduce to the welfare of all concerned if there could be a more equal distribution of wealth. Many persons have much more property than they can use to advantage and many more find it impossible to get the means for a comfortable existence. If the legislature can say to an employer, “you must compensate your employee for an injury not caused by you or by your fault," why can it not go farther and say to the man of wealth, "you have more property than you need and your neighbor is so poor that he can barely subsist; in the interest of natural justice you must divide with your neighbor so that he and his dependents shall not become a charge upon the State?” The argument that the risk to an employee should be borne by the employer, because it is inherent in the employment may be economically sound, but it is at war with the legal principle that no employer can be compelled to assume a risk which is inseparable from the work of the employee, and which may exist in spite of a degree of care by the employer far greater than may be exacted by the most drastic law. If it is competent to impose upon an employer, who has omitted no legal duty and has committed no wrong, a liability based solely upon a legislative fiat that his business is inherently dangerous, it is equally competent to visit upon him a special tax for the support of hospitals and other charitable institutions, upon the theory that they are devoted largely to the alleviation of ills primarily due to his business. In its final and simple analysis that is taking the property of A and giving it to B, and that can not be done under our constitutions. Practical and simple illustrations of the extent to which this theory of liability might be carried could be multiplied ad infinitum, and many will readily occur to the thoughtful reader. There is, of course, in this country no direct legal authority upon the subject of the liability sought to be imposed by this statute, for the theory is not merely new in our system of jurisprudence, but plainly antagonistic to its basic idea. The English authorities are of no assistance to us, because in the king's courts the decrees of the Parliament are the supreme law of the land, although they are interesting in their disclosures of the paternalism which logically results from a universal employers' liability based solely upon the relation of employer and employee, and not upon fault in the employer. There are a few American cases, however, which clearly state the legal principle which, we think, is applicable to the case at bar, and with a brief reference to them we shall close this branch of the discussion. In the nitroglycerine case (Parrot v. Wells, Fargo & Co., 15 Wall. 524) the plaintiff, who was the common landlord of the defendants and other tenants, sought to hold the defendants liable for damages occasioned to the premises occupied by the other tenants, by an explosion of nitroglycerine which had been delivered to the defendants as common carriers for shipment. It appeared that the defendants were innocently ignorant of the contents of the packages containing the dangerous explosives, and that they were guilty of no negligence in receiving or handling them. Upon these facts the Federal Supreme Court held that it was a case of unavoidable accident for which no one was legally responsible. In Ohio & Mississippi Ry. Co.v. Lackey, 78 Ill. 55, the question was whether the railroad company was liable under a statute which provided that “every railroad company running cars within this State shall be liable for all the expense of the coroner and his inquest, and the burial of all persons who may die on the cars, or who may be killed by collision or other accident occurring to such cars, or otherwise.” In speaking of the effect of that section of the law Mr. Justice Breese observed: “An examination of the section will show that no default, or negligence of any kind, need be established against the railroad company, but they are mulcted in heavy charges if, notwithstanding all their care and caution, a death should occur on one of their cars, no matter how caused, even if by the party's own hand. Running of trains by these corporations is lawful and of great public benefit. It is not claimed that the liability attaches for the violation of any law, the omission of any duty or the want of proper care or skill in running their trains. The penalty is not aimed at anything of this kind. We say penalty, for it is in the nature of a penalty, and there is a constitutional inhibition against imposing penalties where no law has been violated or duty neglected. Neither is pretended in this case, nor are they in contemplation of the statute. A passenger on a train dies from sickness. He is a man of wealth. Why should his burial expenses be charged to the railroad company? There is neither reason nor justice in it; and if he be poor, having not the means for a decent burial, the general law makes ample provision for such cases.” To the same effect are the numerous cases arising under statutes passed by different States imposing upon railroad corporations absolute liability for killing or injuring upon their rights of way horses, cattle, etc., by running over them, in which this liability was held to constitute a deprivation of property without due process
of law. (Jensen v. Union Pacific Ry. Co., 6 Utah, 253; Ziegler v. South & North Alabama Ry. Co., 58 Ala. 594; Birmingham Ry. Co. v. Parsons, 100 Ala. 662; Bielingbery v. Montana Union Ry. Co., 8 Mont. 271; Schenk v. Union Pacific Ry. Co., 5 Wyo. 430; Cottrell v. Union Pacific Ry. Co., 2 Wyo, 540.)
A different interpretation has been given to statutes imposing upon railroad corporations the duty to fence their rights of way, under which the liability is imposed for failure to obey the command of the statutes. (Quackenbush v. Wis. Ry. Co., 62 Wis. 411; Missouri Pac. Ry. Co. v. Humes, 115 U. S. 512; Minneapolis & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U. S. 26.) “But even such statutes,” says
Black in his work on Constitutional Law (2d ed. p. 351), “can not go beyond the imposition of such a penalty in cases where the fault lies at the door of the company. If the law attempts to make such companies liable for accidents which were not caused by their negligence or disobedience of the law, but by the negligence of others or by uncontrollable causes, or does not give the company an opportunity to show these facts in its own defense, it is void."
We conclude, therefore, that in its basic and vital features the right given to the employee by this statute, does not preserve to the employer the “due process” of law guaranteed by the constitutions, for it authorizes the taking of the employer's property without his consent and without his fault. So far as the statute merely creates a new remedy in addition to those which existed before it is not invalid. The State has complete control over the remedies which it offers to suitors in its courts even to the point of making them applicable to rights or equities already in existence. It may change the common law and the statutes so as to create duties and liabilities which never existed before. It is true, as stated by Mr. Justice Brown in Holden v. Hardy, 169 U. S. 366, 385, 386, that“ the law is, to a certain extent, a progressive science; that in some of the States methods of procedure, which at the time the Constitution was adopted were deemed essential to the protection and safety of the people, or to the liberty of the citizen, have been found to be no longer necessary; that restrictions which had formerly been laid upon the conduct of individuals, or of classes of individuals, had proved detrimental to their interests; while, upon the other hand, certain other classes of persons, particularly those engaged in dangerous or unhealthful employments, have been found to be in need of additional protection. Even before the adoption of the Constitution, much had been done toward mitigating the severity of the common law, particularly in the administration of its criminal branch.
The present century has originated legal reforms of no less importance. The whole fabric of special pleading, once thought to be necessary to the elimination [sic] of the real issue between the parties, has crumbled to pieces. The ancient tenures of real estate have been largely swept away, and land is now transferred almost as easily and cheaply as personal property. Married women have been emancipated from the control of their husbands and placed upon a practical equality with them with respect to the acquisition, possession and transmission of property. Imprisonment for debt has been abolished. Exemptions from execution have been largely added to, and in most of the States homesteads are rendered incapable of seizure and sale upon forced process. Witnesses are no longer incompetent by reason of interest, even though they be