Employers' Liability Acts 34 Stat. 232 (1906) 35 Stat. 65 (1908)
EMPLOYERS' LIABILITY ACTS 34 Stat. 232 (1906) 35 Stat. 65 (1908)
In the first Employers' Liability Act of June 1906, Congress extended nationwide protection to railroad workers against the arsenal of common law defenses which employers had so effectively used to defeat personal injury suits. This act rendered every common carrier engaged in interstate commerce liable to its employees for all damages resulting from negligence. Congress thus discarded the "fellow-servant" rule which had exculpated employers in accidents caused by another workman's negligence. Moreover, contributory negligence would not bar recovery and the law directed juries, not judges, to determine questions of negligence and assess damages proportionally. The act also prohibited the use of insurance or other benefits as a defense against damage suits. When a 5–4 Supreme Court declared this act unconstitutional because it extended to railroad employees not engaged in interstate commerce, Congress passed a second version of the act in April 1908. Although substantially the same, the new act covered only employees actually working in interstate commerce. Congress also added several sections further protecting employees and extended the period of limitation on actions from one to two years. As it had implied in its first decision, the Court unanimously sustained the act in the second set of employers ' liability cases (1912).