Under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, the cause of action
for death of an employee, upon which suit is to be brought by the
decedent's personal representative, accrues, (a) to the widow and
children if any survive, (b) to the parents, if neither widow nor
children survive, or (c) to dependent next of kin, if there be no
surviving widow, child or parent; but the liability is to one of
the three classes, not to the several classes collectively, and if
the person, e.g.,
the mother, entitled at the death of the
employee dies thereafter before a recovery of the compensation, the
cause of action dies also, and suit may not be brought on behalf of
the class next in line. P.
275 U. S. 162
159 Minn. 417; 166 id.
79, 83, reversed.
Certiorari, 271 U.S. 657, to a judgment of the Supreme Court of
Minnesota affirming a recovery of damages in a suit under the
Federal Employers' Liability Act, brought by the special
administrator of a deceased railroad employee on behalf of his
sister as dependent next of kin.
MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Anderson was killed instantly while employed in interstate
commerce by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy
Page 275 U. S. 162
Railroad. Wells-Dickey Trust Company was appointed special
administrator and brought, in a state court of Minnesota, this
action under the federal Employers' Liability Act, April 22, 1908,
c. 149, § 1, 35 Stat. 65; United States Code, Tit. 45, c. 2, § 51,
for the benefit of a sister alleged to be dependent. Anderson had
not left surviving widow, child, or father. His mother had survived
him, but died before the administrator was appointed. No action was
brought on her behalf. After proceedings which it is unnecessary to
detail, the railroad moved for a directed verdict upon the ground
that, since the mother had survived, the cause of action vested in
her, and that, when she died, the cause of action died with her.
The direction was denied; the plaintiff got a verdict, and the
judgment for the plaintiff entered thereon was affirmed by the
highest court of the state. Wells-Dickey Trust Co. v. Chicago,
B. & Q. R. Co.,
159 Minn. 417, 166 Minn. 79. This Court
granted a writ of certiorari. 271 U.S. 657.
Whether the action lies depends upon the construction to be
given § 1 of the federal Employers' Liability Act, and presents a
novel question. That section provides:
"Every common carrier by railroad . . . shall be liable in
damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such
carrier in such commerce, or, in case of the death of such
employee, to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of
the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee; and,
if none, then of such employee's parents; and, if none, then of the
next of kin dependent upon such employee."
For an injury resulting in death, the Act gives two distinct
causes of action. One is to compensate the injured person for his
loss and suffering while he lives. Under the original Act, that
cause of action did not survive. Michigan Central R. Co. v.
Vreeland, 227 U. S. 59
227 U. S. 67
Now, under the amendment added as § 9 by Act of April 5, 1910, c.
143, § 2, 36 Stat. 291, it survives to the personal representative.
St. Louis, Iron
Page 275 U. S. 163
& Southern Ry. Co. v. Craft, 237 U.
. The second cause of action is to compensate
persons other than the injured employee for pecuniary loss suffered
by them through the employee's death. While the suit thereon must
be brought by the personal representative of the employee, he sues
as trustee for the person or persons on whose behalf the act
authorizes recovery. The question is whether the sister, being, but
for the short survival of the mother, "next of kin, dependent upon
such employee," is, under the circumstances, entitled to
The language of § 1 makes it clear that she is not. The cause of
action as there expressed, accrues to the widow and children, if
either survives. It accrues to the parents if neither widow nor
child survives. It accrues to the next of kin dependent upon the
employee only if there is no surviving widow, child, or parent.
There are thus three classes of possible beneficiaries. But the
liability is in the alternative. It is to one of the three; not to
the several classes collectively. The contention is that, if the
one entitled at the death of the employee to the compensation dies
thereafter before a recovery, the action may be brought on behalf
of the class next in line. There is no basis in the Act for such a
shifting of the beneficiary. The statute does not provide for a
life interest in one, with remainder over to others in the line of
distribution. Nor does it provide for vesting the right to
compensation in the one, with a conditional limitation to another
in case the one entitled at the death happens to die thereafter
without having secured recovery.
The cause of action accrues at the death. Reading Co. v.
Koons, 271 U. S. 58
it accrues, there is an immediate, final, and absolute vesting, and
the vesting is in that one of the several possible beneficiaries
who, according to the express provision in the statute, is declared
entitled to be compensated. Upon Anderson's death, an administrator
might have been appointed and
Page 275 U. S. 164
an action brought immediately. If it had been so brought, it
would have been for the benefit solely of the mother, and no other
action would have lain. The failure to bring the action in the
mother's lifetime did not result in creating a new cause of action
after her death for the benefit of the sister.