Mr. Herman A. Bachrack, of Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.[ Tipton v. Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry. Co. 298 U.S. 141 (1936) ]
[298 U.S. 141, 144] Mr. Leo E. Sievert, of Los Angeles, Cal., for respondent.
Mr. Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
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. 1 The complaint does not state that, at the time of the accident, petitioner was engaged in interstate commerce. After removal to the federal court, a demurrer was filed challenging the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. The demurrer was sustained and leave to amend refused. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that as the petitioner, when injured, was not engaged in interstate commerce, he may seek redress only [298 U.S. 141, 146] under the California Workmen's Compensation Act (Gen.Laws Cal.1931, Act 4749).2 The petitioner sought review by this court on the ground that the decision conflicts with adjudications of the California courts sustaining the right to maintain an action for damages in like circumstances. We granted certiorari.
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. 3 The absolute duty imposed necessarily supersedes the common-law duty of the employer. But, unlike the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 U.S.C.A. 51-59), which gives a right of action for negligence, the Safety Appliance Acts leave the nature and the incidents of the remedy to the law of the states. 4 The Safety Appliance Acts modify the enforcement, by civil action, of the employee's common-law right in only one aspect; namely, by withdrawing the defense of assumption of risk. 5 They do not touch the common or statute law of a state governing venue, limitations, contributory negligence, or recovery for death by wrongful act. 6 [298 U.S. 141, 147] In Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33 , 36 S.Ct. 482, it was decided that, as the first Safety Appliance Act had been extended by later legislation to equipment used in intrastate transportation upon a railroad which is a highway of interstate commerce, an employee injured as the result of a violation of the act, in respect of a car so used, is entitled to recover for breach of the duty imposed on the carrier. Nothing more was there adjudicated. While the opinion discussed the power of Congress, in connection with such regulation of the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, not only to enlarge the common- law duty of the employer and thus alter substantive rights of the empoloyee, but also to afford a correlative remedy, the construction put upon the Safety Appliance Acts was that they remit the person injured to such remedy as the state law affords.
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.