NEW YORK CENTRAL R. CO. V. WHITE, 243 U. S. 188 (1917)

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U.S. Supreme Court

New York Central R. Co. v. White, 243 U.S. 188 (1917)

New York Central Railroad Company v. White

No. 320

Argued February 29, March 1, 1916

Restored to docket for reargument November 13, 1916

Reargued February 1, 1917

Decided March 6, 1917

243 U.S. 188


Employment in guarding tools and materials intended for use in the construction of a new railroad station and new tracks which, when finished, will be used in interstate commerce has no such direct relation to interstate transportation as will afford basis for applying the Federal Employers' Liability Act in case of accident and death. Pedersen v. Delaware, Lackawanna & Western R. Co., 229 U. S. 146, 229 U. S. 152.

He who assails a statute as unconstitutional must show that his right is infringed by it; where, however, a statute so regulates the correlative rights of two classes -- as employers and employees -- that, if void as to one it must be void as to the other, complaint of a party belonging to one class may require an examination of the statute in both aspects.

The New York Workmen's Compensation Law, Laws 1913, c. 816; Laws 1914, chaps. 41, 316, provides an exclusive system to govern the liabilities of employers and the rights of employees and their dependents in respect of compensation for disabling injuries and death caused by accident (not due to the willful intent or the intoxication of the employee) in certain employments, classed as hazardous; the duty of employers to compensate is made absolute; the compensation which employers must pay and employees (or their dependents, in death cases) must accept in satisfaction is measured by a prescribed scale, based on loss of earning power, gauged by the previous wage, and the nature and duration of the disability or, in case of death, the dependency of the beneficiaries; the amounts fixed are apparently moderate and reasonable, and the means of collection, through administrative proceedings subject to judicial review of law questions, are apparently economical, expeditious, and fair; employers are required to furnish security against future liabilities, and the act is prospective.

Page 243 U. S. 189


(1) That neither (a) in rendering the employer liable irrespective of the doctrines of negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, and negligence of fellow servants, nor (b) in depriving the employee, or his dependents, of the higher damages which, in some cases, might be recovered under those doctrines, can the act be said to violate due process.

(2) That, viewed from the standpoint of natural justice, the system provided by the act in lieu of former rules is neither arbitrary nor unreasonable.

(3) That the exclusion of farm laborers and domestic servants from the scheme of the act may not be judicially declared an arbitrary classification violating the equal protection of the law.

The common law rules respecting the rights and liabilities of employer and employee in accident cases, viz., negligence, assumption of risk, contributory negligence, fellow servant doctrine, as rules defining legal duty and guiding future conduct, may be altered by state legislation, and even set aside entirely, at least if some reasonably just substitute be provided.

Since the matter of compensation for disability or death incurred in the course of hazardous employments is of direct interest to the public as a matter affecting the common welfare, the liberty of employer and employee to agree upon such compensation as part of the terms of employment is subject to be restricted by the state police power.

The denial by a trial by jury is not inconsistent with due process of law within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The making of a deposit of cash and securities in obedience to the New York Workmen's Compensation Act, accompanied by an express reservation of all contentions respecting the invalidity of the act, does not estop the depositor from questioning its constitutionality.

Under the power to establish a compulsory Workmen's Compensation System, the state may require employers to furnish satisfactory proof of financial ability to pay compensation in future and may require them to deposit reasonable amounts of securities to insure such payments.

Section 50 of the New York Workmen's Compensation Law requires the employer to secure payment of compensation either by state insurance, or by insurance by an authorized corporation or association, or by furnishing satisfactory proof to the state commission of his financial ability to pay, in which case the commission may, in its discretion, require him to deposit securities of a kind prescribed by the state insurance law in an amount to be determined by the commission.


(1) That, in passing on these provisions, the Court will presume

Page 243 U. S. 190

that the method of self-insurance will be open to all employers, on reasonable terms within the power of the state to impose.

(2) That, viewed as optional alternatives, the other modes of insurance are free from constitutional objections as regards employers.

(3) That such an option is not inconsistent with the constitutional rights of employees, there being no ground to presume that any of the methods of security would prove inadequate to safeguard their interests.

169 App.Div. 903, 216 N.Y. 653, affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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