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Ives v. S. B. R. Co. - 68 Misc. 643, 124 N.Y.S. 920 (Sup. Ct. 1910)


A legislature may alter or repeal the common law. It may create new offenses, enlarge the scope of civil remedies and fasten responsibility for injuries upon persons against whom the common law gives no remedy. 


Plaintiff Earl Ives was employed as a switchman by defendant The South Buffalo Railway Company ("SBRC"). Ives suffered a work-related injury and subsequently filed a lawsuit against SBRC in New York state court. The suit was based on the provisions of 1910 N.Y. Laws 674, which created a new system of compensation for workmen engaged in dangerous employment. The compensation did not require a showing of an employer's fault. In its answer to the complaint, SBRC alleged that the statute violated due process, denied equal protection of the laws, and limited the amount recoverable for damages in violation of the state constitution. Ives demurred to the answer on the ground that it was insufficient in law on its face.


Did the provisions of 1910 N.Y. Laws 674 violate due process and deny equal protection of the laws?




The court overruled the demurrer and directed judgment absolute for Ives on the pleadings. Th court observed that Ives brought himself squarely under the provisions of statute by alleging facts that established, as admitted by the answer, that, while employed by SBRC he was injured while working without negligence on the part of SBRC and without serious or wilful misconduct on his part, but solely by reason of a necessary or inherent risk or danger of his employment, SBRC's constitutional attack was chiefly based on the claim that the statute imposed liability without fault, but the court noted that there were many examples of legal liability without fault, such as the law of deodands and the liability of a husband for his wife's torts. While the common law imposed upon an employee entire responsibility for injuries arising out of the necessary risks or dangers of the employment, the legislature had the power to alter or repeal the common law. The statute merely shifted such liability upon the employer. Th court also ruled that the objection that the statute limited the amount recoverable was a claim for a plaintiff to make, not a defendant.

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