The petitioner, a citizen of California, brought an action against the respondent in the Superior Court of the State to recover for injuries sustained in the course of his employment as a switchman. The complaint recites that the respondent, a Kansas corporation, is a common carrier by railroad in interstate commerce, authorized to transact business in California, and that the line on which the accident occurred is a highway of interstate commerce. The cause of petitioner's injury is alleged to have been a defective coupling apparatus upon a freight car, used in violation of the Federal Safety Appliance Acts.
The Safety Appliance Acts impose an absolute duty upon an employer and prescribe penal sanctions for breach. The earliest, that of 1893, affected only cars which were being used in interstate commerce. By the Act of 1903 the duty was extended to all cars used upon any railroad which is a highway of interstate commerce.
As respects an injury occurring during the course of employment in intrastate activities on a highway of interstate commerce, the question has arisen whether a state may substitute workmen's compensation for the common law or statutory action whereby damages could have been recovered for violation of the Safety Appliance Acts. A number of courts have interpreted the discussion in the Rigsby case as a denial of the power of the states to make the substitution.
This court has recently reaffirmed the principle that the Safety Appliance Acts do not give a right of action
In McMahon v. Montour R. Co., 270 U.S. 628, cited by the petitioner, the judgment of the state court was reversed, not because that court had held that remedy for breach of the duty imposed by the Safety Appliance Acts was afforded by the state workmen's compensation law, but because of its erroneous decision that the federal acts were inapplicable to the cars used in intrastate operations of the railroad, although it was a highway of interstate commerce.
California is at liberty to afford any appropriate remedy for breach of the duty imposed by the Safety Appliance Acts. Her choice in the matter raises no federal question and the federal courts are as much bound as those of
Ballard v. Sacramento Northern Ry. Co., 126 Cal.App. 486; 14 P.2d 1045, 15 P.2d 793, was an action by the administratrix of a brakeman who was killed as a result of a violation of the Safety Appliance Acts. The defendant's railroad was a highway of interstate commerce but the decedent was not engaged in interstate commerce at the time of the accident. The complaint contained no count based upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act. Nevertheless, the court in affirming a judgment for the plaintiff, dealt with the trial court's charge as to contributory negligence as if the action were one brought under the Federal Employers' Liability Act,
The railway company insisted that the state workmen's compensation act afforded the only redress for the decedent's death. In overruling the contention the court cited Smithson v. Atchison T. & S.F. Ry. Co., 174 Cal. 148;
In Walton v. Southern Pacific Co., 8 Cal.App.2d 290; 48 P.2d 108, plaintiff as administratrix sued for the death of her husband, an employee of the defendant. The first and third counts were based upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act; alleged the decedent and the defendant were engaged in interstate commerce at the time of the accident; and described the negligence alleged to have caused the decedent's death. The second count was founded upon the Federal Boiler Inspection Act.
"The appellant's contentions that the sole remedy of an employee of a common carrier, engaged in interstate transportation, or, in this case, of his personal representative, where, at the time of the injury, the employee was not engaged in interstate transportation, but under circumstances where there has been a violation of duty imposed by the Boiler Inspection Act, is under the State Workmen's Compensation Act are untenable (St. 1917, p. 831, as amended). The evidence here shows that the accident happened on a highway of interstate commerce. . . .
"Under the authority of Ballard v. Sacramento Northern Railway Co., 126 Cal.App. 486, 14 P.2d 1045, 15 P.2d 793, the instant suit is maintainable."
If these decisions of intermediate courts of appeal, and the refusal of the Supreme Court of California to review them, amount to no more than a judicial construction of the compensation act as having, by its terms, no application in the circumstances, they are binding authority in federal courts.
In the Ballard case the court thought the Safety Appliance Acts, in addition to imposing a duty, afforded a remedy, and to deny that remedy would be to disregard the mandate of the federal statutes. It was proper, in this view, to construe the language of the compensation act accordingly. In the Walton case, while holding the Boiler Inspection Act irrelevant upon the question of the appropriate remedy, the court denied the application of the workmen's compensation law, upon the authority of the Ballard case.
The Supreme Court of the State refused to review either of the cases although this court had recently defined the scope of the Safety Appliance Acts in the Moore and Gilvary cases. If we were convinced that the court acted solely upon a construction of the workmen's compensation law, uninfluenced by the decisions following the supposed authority of the Rigsby case, we should not hesitate to hold United States courts bound by such construction of the state statute. But the terms of the state compensation law, and the California decisions construing it, lead us to doubt that this is so.
The act, in § 6, provides:
"(a) Liability for the compensation provided by this act, in lieu of any other liability whatsoever to any person, shall, without regard to negligence, exist against an employer for any injury sustained by his employees arising out of and in the course of the employment . . .
"(b) Where such conditions of compensation exist, the right to recover such compensation, pursuant to the provisions of this act, shall be the exclusive remedy against the employer for the injury or death; . . ."
"(c) Employers engaged in interstate commerce. This act shall not be construed to apply to employers or employments which, according to law, are so engaged in interstate commerce as not to be subject to the legislative power of the state, or to employees injured while they are so engaged, except in so far as this act may be permitted to apply under the provisions of the Constitution of the United States or the acts of Congress."
Thus, by its plain terms, the compensation law embraces injuries to an employe circumstanced as was the petitioner in this case. Employers or employments in interstate commerce (the phrase used) obviously signifies situations covered by the Federal Employers' Liability Act which gives a right of action for breach. The phrase does not exclude injuries consequent upon violation of the Safety Appliances Acts in intrastate commerce and the remainder of the section evinces a determination that the compensation act shall govern the rights of employes in interstate commerce so far as permissible under the federal laws.
The Supreme Court of California has repeatedly declared the purpose and effect of the compensation act.
"The enactment substitutes a new system of rights and obligations for the common-law rules governing the liability of employers for injuries to their workmen. The change thus made is radical, not to say revolutionary. In place of the old action, in which the employer was liable only if he, or someone representing him, had been guilty of negligence or misconduct, the new law imposes upon the employer a liability for any accidental injuries to his employees arising out of the employment — a liability not
"The California Workmen's Compensation Act provides the only means by which an injured employee can recover compensation from his employer for injuries received in the course of and arising out of his employment, and it abrogates the common-law liability of the master for such injuries in the cases to which it is applicable. (Netherlands American Steam Nav. Co. v. Gallagher, 282 Fed. 171, 183.) The obvious intent of the act was to substitute its procedure for the former method of settling disputes arising between those occupying the strict relationship of master and servant, or employer and employee, by means of actions for damages. (Cooper v. Industrial Acc. Com., 177 Cal. 685, 687 [171 Pac. 684].) It substitutes a new system of rights and obligations for the common-law rules governing the liability of employers for injuries to their employees. (Western Indemnity Co. v. Pillsbury, 170 Cal. 686, 692 [151 Pac. 398].) When the specified conditions exist, the remedy provided by the act is exclusive of all other statutory or common-law remedies. (DeCarli v. Associated Oil Co., 57 Cal.App. 310 [207 Pac. 282].)"
We are not persuaded that if the state courts had thought that California was free to ordain a plan of workmen's compensation in lieu of an action for damages for breach of the duty imposed by the Safety Appliance Acts they would have restricted the scope of the Workmen's
The judgment is
MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO concurs in the result upon the authority of Gilvary v. Cuyahoga Valley Ry. Co., 292 U.S. 57.