While there are exceptions, especially in the case of remedial
statutes, the general rule is that statutes are addressed to the
future, and not to the past, and, in the absence of explicit words
to that effect, statutes are not retroactive in their
The Employers' Liability Act of 1908 introduced a new policy and
radically changed existing law, and will not be construed as a
remedial statute having retrospective effect.
An action brought under the Employers' Liability Act of 1908 by
the personal representative of the person who was killed prior to
the passage of the act cannot be sustained as stating a cause of
action under the law of the state where that law gives the action
to the parents.
Damages to the estate of one killed by negligence is a distinct
cause of action, under the laws of the Washington, from damages to
the parents of the person so killed.
173 F. 5 affirmed.
Page 227 U. S. 297
The facts, which involve the construction of the Employers'
Liability Act of 1908 and whether it had a retroactive effect, are
stated in the opinion.
Page 227 U. S. 300
MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.
This action was brought in the Circuit Court of the United
States for the Eastern District of Washington, Eastern Division, by
plaintiff in error (herein referred to as plaintiff), as
administrator of the estate of Albert E. Phipps, deceased, against
defendant in error (herein referred to as defendant), for the
wrongful death, it is alleged, of Albert E. Phipps, a minor, of the
age of eighteen years and five months, while acting as fireman upon
a freight locomotive of the defendant in the State of Washington.
The negligence of defendant is alleged, and that defendant was
engaged in interstate commerce; that decedent had not been
emancipated nor had his parents knowledge of his employment; that
they lived in the State of Wyoming,
Page 227 U. S. 301
and that the action was brought for their benefit under the
provisions of the Act of Congress of April 22, 1908, entitled, "An
Act Relating to the Liability of Common Carriers by Railroad to
their Employees in Certain Cases."
Defendant demurred to the complaint on the ground, among others,
that the Act of Congress upon which plaintiff relied was passed,
approved, and became a law after plaintiff's alleged cause of
action accrued, and imposed no liability therefore on defendant by
reason of the facts set forth in the complaint. The demurrer was
sustained, and, plaintiff refusing to plead further, judgment was
entered dismissing the complaint and for costs. The court of
appeals affirmed the judgment.
Plaintiff, to support his contention that the act of Congress
has retroactive operation, presents a very elaborate argument based
on the extensive effect which courts have given to remedial
statutes, applying them, it is contended, to the past as well as to
the future. The court of appeals met the argument, as we think it
should be met, by saying that statutes that had received such
extensive application such as were
"intended to remedy a mischief, to promote public justice, to
correct innocent mistakes, to cure irregularities in judicial
proceedings, or to give effect to the acts and contracts of
individuals according to the intent thereof."
It is hardly necessary to say that such statutes are exceptions
to the almost universal rule that statutes are addressed to the
future, not to the past. They usually constitute a new factor in
the affairs and relations of men, and should not be held to affect
what has happened unless, indeed, explicit words be used, or by
clear implication that construction be required. It is true that it
is said that there was liability on the part of the defendant for
its negligence before the passage of the act of Congress, and the
act has only given a more efficient and
Page 227 U. S. 302
a more complete remedy. It, however, takes away material
defenses -- defenses which did something more than resist the
remedy; they disproved the right of action. Such defenses the
statute takes away, and that none may exist in the present case is
immaterial. It is the operation of the statute which determines its
character. The court of appeals aptly characterized it, and we may
quote from its opinion:
"It is a statute which permits recovery in cases where recovery
could not be had before, and takes away from the defendant defenses
which formerly were available -- defenses which, in this instance,
existed at the time when the contract of service was entered into
and at the time when the accident occurred."
Such a statute, under the rule of the cases, should not be
construed as retrospective. It introduced a new policy and quite
radically changed the existing law.
It is contended that, apart from the Act of Congress, the
complaint "states a cause of action under the statutes of the State
of Washington." This does not avail plaintiff. He admits that the
statutes of Washington give the right of action to the father of
the deceased minor, not to a personal representative. He, however,
to justify his right of action, says that the compensation
recovered in an action by the father of the minor belongs, under
the community system, to the mother as well as to the father. But
we are not informed how this, if true, gives a right of action in
the administrator of the minor's estate. Damages to his estate
would be a distinct cause of action from damages to his parents.
Hedrick v. Ilwaco Ry. & Nav. Co.,
4 Wash. 400.