Readings on the Relation of Government to Property and Industry

By Samuel P. Orth | Go to book overview

EMPLOYERS' LIABILITY AND WORKMEN'S COMPENSATION LAWS

BY J. WALTER LORD, OF THE BALTIMORE BAR

(From an Address delivered at the Seventeenth Annual Meeting of the Maryland State Bar Association, July, 1912)

The subject which I shall undertake to discuss in the following paper is one that has received elaborate consideration in this country, particularly within the past three years. The paper, therefore, does not reflect any original thought on the part of the writer, but is rather an attempt to compress, within unobjectionable limits, the conditions out of which the movement toward the enactment of workmen's compensation acts in this country has developed, and the constitutional and economic questions related to that problem. My justification for selecting this subject is not so much that these questions are academically novel and interesting, as that the subject is itself a timely one, and that we may feel reasonably assured that the "law of negligence," in cases of occupational injuries, will very soon be superseded generally in this country, as, indeed, it has been almost everywhere else, by the "law of compensation."

It is a somewhat interesting coincidence that contemporaneously with the decision of the English Court of Exchequer in Priestlyvs. Fowler (3 M. & W. 1, decided in 1837) -- the case which is considered as the genesis of the doctrines of fellow-servant and assumption of risks -- the Kingdom of Prussia took the initial step in the recognition of the principle that the employer should be held to an absolute liability in the case of occupational injuries. The replacement, by Prussia, of the old law of negligence by its first liability law of November 3, 1838, relating only to railway employees, was doubtless based upon the obvious hazard of that industry, which had just then been introduced in the country. Had there been presented to Lord Abinger, in Priestlyvs. Fowler, a situation where the employment in which the injury occurred was intrinsically hazardous, or a case wherein the circumstances of the injury were more complex than those involved in the extremely simple case of a butcher's helper injured through the carelessness of his master's wagon driver, with whom he customarily worked, it is not improbable that the current of our law respecting a master's liability for his servant's injuries might have been changed. However that may be, it is of some interest to note, that from these contemporaneous events there has developed in Germany a system of workmen's compensation and industrial insurance which gives prompt and effectual pecuniary relief, without economic waste, in all

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