Chicago, B. & Q. Railway Co. v. United States - 220 U.S. 559 (1911)
U.S. Supreme Court
Chicago, B. & Q. Railway Co. v. United States, 220 U.S. 559 (1911)
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway Company v. United States
Argued March 9, 1911
Decided May 15, 1911
220 U.S. 559
Under the Safety Appliance Acts of March 2, 1893, c.196, 27 Stat. 531, April 1, 1896, c. 87, 29 Stat. 8, and March 2, 1903, c. 976, 32 Stat. 943, there is imposed an absolute duty on the carrier, and the penalty cannot be escaped by exercise of reasonable care.
This Court, in St. Louis, I. M. & S. Railway Co. v. Taylor, 210 U. S. 281, considered and determined the scope and effect of the Safety Appliance Acts and the degree of care required by the carrier, and the question is not open to further discussion, as this Court should not disturb a construction which has been widely accepted and acted upon by the courts.
For this Court to give a construction to an act of Congress contrary to one previously given would cause uncertainty, if not mischief, in the administration of law in federal courts, and, having placed an interpretation on the Safety Appliance Acts, this Court will adhere thereto until Congress, by amendment, changes the rule announced in St. Louis, I. M. & S. Railway Co. v. Taylor, supra.
An action for penalties under the Safety Appliance Acts is a civil, and not a criminal one, and the enforcement of such penalties is not governed by considerations controlling prosecution of criminal offenses.
Congress has unquestioned power to declare an offense and to exclude the elements of knowledge and due diligence from the inquiry as to its commission.
170 F. 556 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the construction of the Safety Appliance Acts and the duties and liabilities of carriers to equip their cars with safety appliances, are stated in the opinion.