STEWART V. BALTIMORE & OHIO R. CO., 168 U. S. 445 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Stewart v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 168 U.S. 445 (1897)

Stewart v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company

No. 97

Argued November 8, 1897

Decided December 6, 1897

168 U.S. 445


The Supreme Court of the District of Columbia has jurisdiction of an action, sounding in tort, brought by the administrator of a deceased person against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company to recover damages for the benefit of the widow of the deceased by reason of his being killed by a collision which took place while he was traveling on that railroad in the Maryland.

The purpose of the several statutes passed in the states in more or less conformity to what is known as Lord Campbell's Act, is to provide the means for recovering the damages caused by that which is in its nature a tort, and where such a statute simply takes away a common law obstacle to a recovery for the tort, an action for that tort can be maintained in any state in which that common law obstacle has been removed when the statute of the state in which the cause of action arose is not, in substance, inconsistent with the statutes or public policy of the state in which the right of action is sought to be enforced.

While under the Maryland statute authorizing the survival of the right of action, the state is the proper plaintiff and the jury trying the cause is to apportion the damages recovered, and under the act of Congress in force in the District of Columbia, the proper plaintiff is the personal representative of the deceased, and the damages recovered are distributed by law, these differences are not sufficient to render the statutes of Maryland inconsistent with the act of Congress or the public policy of the District of Columbia.

On October 22, 1894, plaintiff in error, as plaintiff, filed in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia an amended declaration, containing two counts. The first alleged that John Andrew Casey, plaintiff's intestate, was killed through the negligence of the defendant company, in the State of Maryland; that said intestate left surviving no parent or child, but only his wife, Alice Triplett Casey, for whose benefit this action was brought. The second count set forth, in addition to the matters disclosed in the first, a statute of the State of Maryland in respect to recovery in such cases. A demurrer

Page 168 U. S. 446

to this declaration was sustained, and judgment entered for defendant. This was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia (6 App.D.C. 56), and from such judgment of affirmance plaintiff has brought the case here on error.

The statute in force in the District of Columbia, Act of February 17, 1885, c. 126, 23 Stat. 307, provides for recovery in case the act causing death is done within the limits of the District of Columbia, that

"the person who or corporation which would have been liable if death had not ensued shall be liable to an action for damages for such death, notwithstanding the death of the person injured,"

that the recovery shall not exceed $10,000, that the action shall be brought in the name of the personal representative of the deceased, and within one year after his death, and that the damages recovered shall not be appropriated to the payment of the debts of the deceased, but inure to the benefit of his or her family, and be distributed according to the provisions of the statute of distributions. The Maryland statute which is copied in the declaration, Rev.Code Maryland 1878, p. 724, provides, in the first section that whenever the death of a person shall be caused by the wrongful act, negligence, etc., of another, "the person who would have been liable if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages." Section 2 and 3 are as follows:

"SEC. 2. Every such action shall be for the benefit of the wife, husband, parent and child of the person whose death shall have been so caused, and shall be brought by and in the name of the State of Maryland, for the use of the person entitled to damages, and in every such action the jury may give such damages as they may think proportioned to the injury resulting from such death to the parties respectively for whom and for whose benefit such action shall be brought, and the amount so recovered, after deducting the costs not recovered from the defendant, shall be divided amongst the above-mentioned parties in such shares as the jury by their verdict shall find and direct, provided that not more than one action shall lie for and in respect of the same subject matter of complaint, and that every such action shall be commenced

Page 168 U. S. 447

within twelve calendar months after the death of the deceased person."

"SEC. 3. In every such action, the equitable plaintiff on the record shall be required, together with the declaration, to deliver to the defendant, or his attorney, a full particular of the persons for whom and on whose behalf such action shall be brought, and of the nature of the claim in respect of which damages shall be sought to be recovered."

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