Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
FindLaw’s Learn About the Law features thousands of informational articles to help you understand your options. And if you’re ready to hire an attorney, find one in your area who can help.
Messrs. Luther Burns, of Topeka, Kan., M. L. Bell and W. F. Dickinson, both of Chicago, Ill., T. P. Littlepage, of Washington, D. C., J. E. Du Mars, of Topeka, Kan., and W. D. Vance, of Belleville, Kan., for petitioner. [277 U.S. 335, 336] Messrs. Edwin C. Brandenburg, of Washington, D. C., and John F. McClure, of Belleville, Kan., for respondent.
Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
While employed in interstate commerce by the Director General of Railroads at Belleville, Kan., July 31, 1919, Lewis Goodyear sustained serious personal injuries for which he claimed the right to recover damages under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (35 Stat. 65, c. 149 ( 45 USCA 51-59; Comp. St. 8657-8665); 36 Stat. 291 (45 USCA 56, 59; Comp. St. 8662, 8665)). On March 16, 1920, he settled with the employer, accepted the agreed sum, and executed a general release, which, among other things, recites:
May 4, 1920, Goodyear died. April 19, 1921, relying upon the Federal Employers' Liability Act, his widow, as administratrix and in behalf of herself and her children, brought this action for damages against the Director General in the district court, Republic county, Kan. She alleged that her husband's death resulted from the injuries suffered July 31, 1919. As a bar to the action, the answer set up the settlement and release above referred to; and the administratrix replied that the beneficiaries had a separate cause of action for their pecuniary damage which the decedent could not release.
The cause was twice tried and twice considered by the Supreme Court of Kansas. At the first trial, the jury was [277 U.S. 335, 338] told:
Judgment for the Director General was reversed by the Supreme Court. It held the quoted instruction erroneous. The opinion shows care and research, and forcefully sets out the argument against the power of an injured employee to destroy the right of dependents to recover in event of his death. Goodyear v. Davis, 114 Kan. 557, 220 P. 282, 39 A. L. R. 563; Id., 115 Kan. 20, 220 P. 1049, 39 A. L. R. 563.
At the second trial, the court instructed the jury:
Answering special questions, the jury found that no fraud attended the settlement; Goodyear was mentally capable of transacting business at the time; there was no mutual mistake as to his physical condition; the release was not given under the mistaken belief that the material results of his injuries had disappeared; and nothing was allowed for funeral expenses.
Upon a verdict in her favor for $5,000, judgment went for the administratrix, which the Supreme Court af- [277 U.S. 335, 339] firmed, definitely approving the instruction last quoted. Goodyear v. Davis, 121 Kan. 392, 247 P. 446. She died July 10, 1926, and Edward Goodyear was duly substituted by order of Supreme Court of Kansas.
The question for our decision is whether the settlement between Goodyear and the employer, made advisedly and in good faith, barred an action by dependents for their pecuniary damages through his death.
The Liability Act, approved April 22, 1908, 35 Stat. 65, c. 149, provided:
The amending Act of April 5, 1910, 36 Stat. 291, c. 143, added the following:
In Michigan Central Railroad Co. v. Vreeland, 227 U.S. 59, 65 , 67 S., 68, 69, 70, 33 S. Ct. 192, Ann. Cas. 1914C, 176, an action by the administrator to recover for loss cuffered by the wife by reason of her husband's wrongful death, this court considered the original statute ( 1908) and held that the employee's right of action to recover such damages as would compensate for expenses, loss of time, suffering, and diminished earning power did not survive his death, also that the mere existence of such a right in the employee's lifetime did not destroy the dependent's right under the statute to recover for pecuniary damages consequent upon the death. By Mr. Justice Lurton, the court said:
In St. Louis, I. M. & S. Ry. Co. v. Craft, 237 U.S. 648, 657 , 658 S., 35 S. Ct. 704, an administrator sought to recover for the father's benefit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act as amended in 1910 (45 USCA 56; Comp. St. 8662). Damages were claimed on account of ( a) pecuniary loss to the father, and (b) conscious pain and suffering by the decedent. The railway company insisted that the recovery should be restricted either to the pecuniary loss to the father, or to the damages sus- [277 U.S. 335, 342] tained by the injured person while alive; that the statute does not permit recovery for both. This court held otherwise, and said:
In Frese, Adm'x, v. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. R. Co., 263 U.S. 1, 4 , 44 S. Ct. 1, 2 (68 L. Ed. 131), an action under the liability Act for [277 U.S. 335, 343] damages consequent upon death of the plaintiff's intestate, it was said:
The injuries were due primarily to the default of the engineer, and the employer never became liable to him.
In Reading Co. v. Koons, Adm'r, 271 U.S. 58, 64 , 46 S. Ct. 405, the administrator sought recovery by suit commenced seven years after the employee's death, but within two years after the granting of administration. This court declared the action was barred.
In Seaboard Air Line Ry. v. Oliver (C. C. A. 1919) 261 F. 1, 2, 3, 4, the employee received injuries March 31, 1912, and died August 11, 1915. The administrator sued, and the railway company resisted on the ground that, during his lifetime, the decedent had recovered a judgment for the damages sustained, which had been satisfied. The trial court overruled the defense and allowed recovery. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, and said:-
Obviously, the settlement and release of March 16, 1920, satisfied and discharged any claim against the Director General for the personal loss and suffering of Goodyear. Immediately before his death he had no right of action, and nothing passed to the administratrix because of such loss and suffering. Hence it is that the administratrix must recover, if at all, under section 1, Act of 1908, which imposes liability for pecuniary loss sustained by dependents through death. [277 U.S. 335, 344] Concerning that section, Vreeland's Case, supra, declares:
And no later opinion here has given expression to any other view.
By the overwhelming weight of judicial authority, where a statute of the nature of Lord Campbell's Act in effect gives a right to recover damages for the benefit of dependents, the remedy depends upon the existence in the decedent at the time of his death of a right of action to recover for such injury. A settlement by the wrongdoer with the injured person, in the absence of fraud or mistake, precludes any remedy by the personal representative based upon the same wrongful act. Construing the statute of Kansas, the Supreme Court of that state seems to have accepted this generally approved doctrine. Fuller, Adm'x, v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co., 124 Kan. 66, 257 P. 971.
The cases supporting this view, from courts of last resort in twenty- one states, Canada, and England, are collected in a note following the first opinion of the Supreme Court of Kansas in the present cause, reported in 39 A. L. R. 579. And in Tiffany on Wrongful Death (2d Ed.) 124, the rule (with supporting authorities) is thus broadly stated:
See Strode v. Transit Co., 197 Mo. 616, 95 S. W. 851, 7 Ann. Cas. 1084. See, also, Edwards v. Chemical Co., 170 N. C. 551, 87 S. E. 635, L. R. A. 1916D, 121; Louisville R. Co. v. Raymond's Adm'r, 135 Ky. 738, 123 S. W. 281, 27 L. R. A. (N. S.) 176; Perry's Adm'r v. L. & N. R. Co., 199 Ky. 396, 251 S. W. 202, 39 A. L. R. 560; State v. United Rys., 121 Md. 457, 88 A. 229, L. R. A. 1915E, 1163; Hill v. Penn. Ry. Co., 178 Pa. 223, 35 A. 997, 35 L. R. A. 196, 56 Am. St. Rep. 754.
Considering the repeated holdings of many courts of last resort, the declarations by this court, and the probable ill consequences to both employees and employers which would follow the adoption of the contrary view, we must conclude that the settlement and release relieved the Director General from all liability for damages consequent upon the injuries received by Goodyear and his death.
The statute of 1908 is entitled 'An act relating to the liability of common carriers by railroad to their employees in certain cases.' Fifteen years ago this court affirmed that, in so far as it gives an action for the benefit of dependents, the statute is essentially identical with Lord Campbell's Act. Continued adherence to this view [277 U.S. 335, 346] is emphasized by repeated holdings that dependents can recover only pecuniary damages. American Railroad Co. of Porto Rico v. Didricksen, 227 U.S. 145, 149 , 33 S. Ct. 224; Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. McGinnis, 228 U.S. 173 , 33 S. Ct. 426; C. & O. Ry. Co. v. Kelly, Adm's, 241 U.S. 485 , 36 S. Ct. 630; C. & O. Ry. Co. v. Gainey, Adm'r, 241 U.S. 494 , 36 S. Ct. 633; Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Mosler (Nov. 21, 1927) 275 U.S. 133 , 48 S. Ct. 49. Neither statute defines the nature of the damages to be recovered; this was left for interpretation. We followed the construction given the earlier one when it became necessary to interpret and apply the later and similar act.
The judgment of the court below must be reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Response sent, thank you
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.
Citation: 277 U.S. 335
Docket No: No. 131
Decided: May 28, 1928
Court: United States Supreme Court
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)