Panama R. Co. v. Rock,
266 U.S. 209 (1924)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Panama R. Co. v. Rock, 266 U.S. 209 (1924)

Panama R. Co. v. Rock

No. 4

Submitted October 6, 1924

Decided November 17, 1924

266 U.S. 209


1. At common law, no private cause of action arises from the death of a human being, and such, it seems, was also the general rule of the Roman civil law. P. 266 U. S. 211.

2. Art. 2341 of the Civil Code of Panama, which reads:

"He who shall have been guilty of an offense or fault, which has caused another damage is obliged to repair it, without prejudice to the principal penalty which the law imposes for the fault or offense committed,"

was made operative in the Canal Zone by Executive Order of May 9, 1904, and confirmed as valid and binding there by the Act of August 24, 1912, § 2, 37 Stat. 560. P. 266 U. S. 211.

Page 266 U. S. 210

3. In view of the Spanish affinities of the South American countries that adopted this article -- first Chile, then the states of Colombia, including Panama, which apparently took it from Chile -- it is to be assumed that it was adopted from a like provision in the Spanish Code, rather than from another in the Code Napoleon. P. 266 U. S. 212.

4. Hence, an earlier French construction sustaining a private action for death caused by negligence cannot be presumed to have been adopted with the statute, and the more clearly so in the absence of ground to infer that the adoption was with knowledge of such construction. Id.

5. In the absence of construction by Spain prior to the adoption by Chile, by Chile prior to the adoption by Panama, and by Panama or Colombia prior to the adoption for the Canal Zone, the article must be independently construed, according only persuasive force to decisions of the Spanish-speaking countries. P. 266 U. S. 213.

6. The Executive Order and the Act of 1912, having continued in force in the Canal Zone the law of the land "with which the inhabitants are familiar," the population there having immediately become largely American and the local courts having adopted common law principles in construing statutes, the article should be construed in accordance with the common law, as not granting a private cause of action for death by negligence. P. 266 U. S. 214.

272 F. 649 reversed.

Error to a judgment of the circuit court of appeals which affirmed a judgment recovered by Rock in the District Court for the Canal Zone for damages resulting from the death of his wife due, as it was alleged, to negligence of the Railroad Company.

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