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Arizona Employers' Liability Cases, 250 U.S. 400 (1919)

Arizona Employers' Liability Cases*

Nos. 20, 21, 232, 332, 334

Argued January 25, 28, 1918

April 24, 25, 119

Decided June 9, 1919

250 U.S. 400


The Arizona Employers' Liability Law (Rev.Stats., 1913, pars. 3154, 3156, 3158, 3160), in respect of certain specified employments reasonably designated as inherently hazardous and dangerous to workmen, imposes upon the employer, without regard to his fault or that of any person for whose conduct he is responsible, liability in compensatory (not speculative or punitive) damages for the accidental personal injury or death of any employee arising out of and in the course of the employment and due to a condition or conditions of the occupation, but not caused by the employee's own negligence. Held that it does not infringe the rights of employers under the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 250 U. S. 419 et seq. New York Central R. Co. v. White, 243 U. S. 188.

The states are left a wide field of discretion to change their laws, and their legislation is not subject to constitutional objection upon the ground that it is novel and unwise. Pp. 250 U. S. 419-421.

The court has repeatedly adjudged that the rules governing the liability of employers for death or injury of employees in the course of the employment are subject, as rules of future conduct, to alteration by the states, and that, excluding unreasonable or arbitrary changes, the employer may be made liable without fault, and the common law defenses be abolished. P. 250 U. S. 419.

In this instance, the effect of the statute is to require the employer, instead of the employee, to assume a pecuniary risk inherent in the

Page 250 U. S. 401

employment and due to its conditions, and not to the negligence of the employee killed or injured, leaving the employer, as the common law in theory left the employee, to take such risk into consideration in fixing wages, with the opportunity, besides, to charge the loss as a part of the cost of the product of the industry. P. 250 U. S. 420.

The statute limits recovery strictly to compensatory damages -- excluding punitive damages, which it may be conceded would be contrary to natural justice -- and makes only such discrimination between employer and employee as necessarily arises from their different relations to the common undertaking. There is no denial of the equal protection of the laws. P. 250 U. S. 422.

The statute adds no new burden to the cost of industry, but merely recognizes and in part transfers to the employer an existing and inevitable burden due to the hazardous nature of the industry. P. 250 U. S. 424.

The statute may be regarded as a police regulation, designed to prevent the injured employees and their dependents from becoming a burden upon the public, and, so regarded, it cannot be said to be so clearly unreasonable and arbitrary that this Court should declare it violative of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id.

It amounts to a contradiction of terms to say that, in leaving the issues of fact and the compensatory damages to be determined by juries according to the established procedure of the courts, the statute violates due process of law. P. 250 U. S. 426.

If a state establishes a right of action for compensation to injured workmen upon grounds not arbitrary or fundamentally unjust, the question whether the award shall be measured as compensatory damages are measured at common law or according to some prescribed scale reasonably adapted to produce a fair result is for the state to determine. P. 250 U. S. 428.

Whether such compensation should be paid in a single sum or distributed during the period of disability or need is likewise for the state to determine. P. 250 U. S. 429.

The objection that the Arizona act may be extended by construction to nonhazardous industries cannot be raised by parties whose industries were indisputably hazardous. Id.

The objection that the benefits of the act may be extended, in the case of a death claim, to those not nearly related to or dependent upon the workman, or may even go by escheat to the state, held not presented, the Arizona court having construed the act as confining recovery to compensatory damages. P. 250 U. S. 430.

Page 250 U. S. 402

The Arizona system allows the injured employee an election of remedies, permitting restricted recovery under a "compensation law " although he has been guilty of contributory negligence, and full compensatory damages under the Employers' Liability Act if he has not. Held not inconsistent with the due process or equal protection clauses, as respects employers. P. 250 U. S. 430.


That certain voluntary conduct may constitutionally be put at the peril of those pursuing it finds illustrations in the criminal law and in the extent to which a master may be held for acts of a servant. P. 250 U. S. 432.

The criterion of fault itself involves applying the external standard of prudence and the decision of a jury. Id.

Holding the employer liable for accidents tends directly to secure attention to the safety of the men, an unquestionably constitutional object of legislation. Id.

In allowing damages for pain and mutilation, the Arizona law constitutionally may have been based on the view that, if a business is unsuccessful ,it means that the public does not care enough for it to make it pay, and, if it is successful, the public pays the expenses, and something more, and should pay, as part of the cost of producing what it wants, the cost of pain and mutilation incident to the production, and that, by throwing that loss upon the employer in the first instance, it is thrown in the long run, justly, upon the public. P. 250 U. S. 433.

The liability under this law is limited to a conscientious valuation of the loss, and it is to be presumed that juries and courts will confine it accordingly. Id.

It is not urged in this case that the provision for 12 percent interest from the date of suit, in case of an unsuccessful appeal, is void. P. 250 U. S. 434.

19 Ariz. 151, id. 182, affirmed.

The cases are stated in the opinion.

Page 250 U. S. 417

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