Michigan Central R. Co. v. Vreeland
227 U.S. 59 (1913)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Michigan Central R. Co. v. Vreeland, 227 U.S. 59 (1913)

Michigan Central Railroad Company v. Vreeland

No. 242

Argued December 4, 1912

Decided January 20, 1913

227 U.S. 59

Syllabus

If the constitutional questions on which the writ of error was based were not foreclosed when the writ was sued out, this Court retains jurisdiction to consider other assignments of error even if the constitutional questions have meanwhile been decided in other cases adversely to plaintiff in error.

The Employers' Liability Act of 1908 will not receive such a narrow interpretation as to defeat all liability because the injured employee survived the injury for a brief period.

Congress has always had power under the commerce clause of the Constitution to regulate the liability of interstate carriers to their employees for injuries, but until it did act, the subject was within the police power of the states. Since the passage of the Employers' Liability Act of 1908, that act is paramount and exclusive, and so remains unless and until Congress shall again remit the subject to the states. Reid v. Colorado,187 U. S. 137.

A federal statute upon a subject exclusively under federal control must be construed by itself and cannot be pieced out by state legislation. If a liability does not exist under the Employers' Liability Act of 1908, it does not exist by virtue of any state legislation on the same subject.

At common law, the right of action for an injury to the person is extinguished by the death of the party injured, whether death be instantaneous or not. As the Employers' Liability Act of 1908 did not provide for any such survival, the right was extinguished by death.

At common law, loss and damage may accrue and a right of action accrue to persons dependent upon one wrongfully injured, but this cause of action, except for loss of services prior to death, abates at the death.

The evident purpose, however, of Congress in enacting the Employers' Liability Act of 1908 was to save a right of action to certain relatives dependent upon the employee wrongfully injured for the loss and financial damage resulting from his death, and there is no express or implied limitation of the liability to cases in which death was instantaneous.

This liability is for pecuniary damage only, and the statute should be construed in this respect as Lord Campbell's Act has been construed,

Page 227 U. S. 60

not as granting a continuance of the right the injured employ had, but as granting a new and independent cause of action.

The pecuniary loss recoverable under the Employers' Liability Act of 1908 by one dependent upon the employee wrongfully killed must be a loss which can be measured by some standard, and does not include an inestimable loss such as that of society and companionship of the deceased or of care and advice in case of a husband for his wife.

There is no hard and fast rule by which pecuniary damages may be measured in all cases.

A minor child sustains a loss from the death of a parent of a different kind from that of wife or husband from the death of the spouse; while the former is capable of definite valuation the latter is not.

In this case, the judgment under the Employers' Liability Act of 1908, of damages for death of a husband who survived the injury for a brief period is reversed because, although the wife was entitled to maintain the action notwithstanding the death was not instantaneous, the damages were not properly estimated, as the court charged the jury that they could consider the relation of husband and wife and the care and advice of the former to the latter.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 227 U. S. 63

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