The Quest for a Federal Workmen's Compensation Law for Railroad Employees
Law & Contemporary Problems
Any symposium relating to the Federal Employers' Liability Act should, it would seem, include a consideration of the efforts which have been made during the past forty years to obtain legislation which would extend to railroad employees and their dependents the benefits of workmen's compensation based on the liability of the employer regardless of fault. The following is an attempt to present a brief history of those efforts. At common law an employer was under the duty to protect an employee
... om injury while he was engaged in the performance of the operations of his job. At the same time, the employee assumed the normal risks inherent in the line of work he engaged to perform. In order to protect the employee from the hazards of his work, the employer was required to exercise due care to provide a safe place in which to work, keep the work area in reasonable repair for normal use, and make inspections frequently enough to insure that proper working conditions were being maintained. The employer was required to provide safe tools and appliances for the employee to use. The employer had the duty to warn of danger, when he knew or discovered it, and to formulate, display, and enforce such rules and regulations as would afford employees obeying them a reasonable degree of protection while in the performance of their duties. The employer was also under the obligation to use reasonable care in the selection of competent fellow servants and to select them in numbers sufficient to insire the safe performance of all assigned tasks. These duties, being the sole responsibility of the employer, could not ordinarily be delegated to another.' At common law, the liability of employers arises only where it can be shown that their negligence was the proximate cause of the injury or disability sustained by their employees. Thus, at common law, where an employer fails to take the foregoing described precautions, he has not acted as a reasonable and prudent man would have done under similar circumstances and would be considered negligent in exercising his duty toward his employees. Under the common law, injuries and fatalities could not be compensated through the courts unless it could be proved that the employer was negligent.