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Opinion of the Court.
In the Colony of Massachusetts, from the first settlement, it was an object of legislation, "for the preservation of houses, hay, boards, timber, &c." 1 Mass. Col. Rec. (1631) 90, (1639) 281; 3 Mass. Col. Rec. (1646) 102. In 1660, or earlier, it was enacted that "whoever shall kindle any fires in the woods, or grounds lying in common, or enclosed, so as the same shall run into corn grounds or enclosures," at certain seasons, should "pay all damages, and half so much for a fine"; "provided that any man may kindle fire in his own ground so as no damage come thereby either to the country or to any particular person." Mass. Col. Laws of 1660, p. 31; of 1672, p. 51.
Soon after the introduction of railroads into the United States, the legislature of the State of Massachusetts, by the statute of 1837, c. 226, provided that a railroad corporation should be held responsible in damages for any injury done to buildings or other property of others by fire communicated from its locomotive engines, "unless the said corporation shall show that they have used all due caution and diligence, and employed suitable expedients to prevent such injury"; and that any railroad corporation should have an insurable interest in property along its route for which it might be so held responsible in damages, and might procure insurance thereon in its own behalf.
Three years later, that statute was repealed, and was reenacted with the omission of the clause above quoted, thus making the liability of the railroad corporation absolute, and not dependent upon negligence on its part. And the statute. in this form, with merely verbal changes, has been continued in force by successive reënactments. Mass. Stat. 1840, c. 85; Gen. Stat. of 1860, c. 63, § 101; Stat. 1874, c. 372, § 106; Pub. Stat. of 1882, c. 112, § 214.
In the first reported case under this statute, it was held by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts that the liability of the railroad company was not restricted to a building by the side of its road, which the very particles of fire emanating from the engines fell upon and kindled a flame in, but extended to a building across a street, set on fire by sparks wafted by the wind from the first building while it was burning; and
ST. LOUIS & SAN FRANCISCO R'Y v. MATHEWS. 11
Opinion of the Court.
Chief Justice Shaw, in delivering judgment, said: "We consider this to be a statute purely remedial, and not penal. Railroad companies acquire large profits by their business. But their business is of such a nature as necessarily to expose the property of others to danger; and yet, on account of the great accommodation and advantage to the public, companies are authorized by law to maintain them, dangerous though they are, and so they cannot be regarded as a nuisance. The manifest intent and design of this statute, we think, and its legal effect, are, upon the considerations stated, to afford some indemnity against this risk to those who are exposed to it, and to throw the responsibility upon those who are thus authorized to use a somewhat dangerous apparatus, and who realize a profit from it." Hart v. Western Railroad, (1847) 13 Met. 99.
Two years afterwards, the same court adjudged that the statute applied to railroad companies incorporated before its passage; and that it extended as well to estates, a part of which had been conveyed by the owner, as to those of which a part had been taken by law, for the purposes of a railroad; and Mr. Justice Dewey, in delivering judgment, said: “We can perceive no sound distinction between the cases supposed. Each of these modes for acquiring the necessary real estate for the purpose of a railroad is authorized, both by the general laws and by the acts creating railroad corporations. In each, the landowner is supposed to receive full satisfaction for all the injuries necessarily resulting from the use of the same for a railroad. But with the use of locomotive engines, greater hazard to contiguous buildings and property owned by the adjacent landowners may arise, than was originally contemplated, or ought to be left to the ordinary common law remedies. We consider this provision of the statute of 1840, c. 85, as one of those general remedial acts passed for the more effectual protection of property against the hazards to which it has become subject by the introduction of the locomotive engine. The right to use the parcel of land appropriated to a railroad does not deprive the legislature of the power to enact such regulations, and impose such liabilities for injuries suffered from the mode of using the road, as the occasion and
Opinion of the Court.
circumstances may reasonably justify." Lyman v. Boston & Worcester Railroad, (1849) 4 Cush. 288.
The same statute was held to cover personal property in a building, and growing trees, destroyed by fire from a locomotive engine; Chief Justice Bigelow saying: "It is not a penal statute, but purely remedial in its nature; and it is to be interpreted fairly and liberally, so as to secure to parties injured an indemnity from those who reap the advantages and profits arising from the use of a dangerous mode of locomotion, by means of which buildings and other property are destroyed." Ross v. Boston & Worcester Railroad, (1863) 6 Allen, 87.
Again, in Ingersoll & Quigley v. Stockbridge & Pittsfield Railroad, (1864) 8 Allen, 438, it was held, following Hart v. Western Railroad, above cited, to be immaterial that a building was destroyed by the spreading of a fire from other buildings on which the sparks from the engine had fallen; and it was also held to be immaterial that the building stood partly within the location of the railroad; Mr. Justice Hoar saying: "The fact that a building or other property stands near a railroad, or partly or wholly on it, if placed there with the consent of the company, does not diminish their responsibility, in case it is injured by fire communicated from their locomotives. The legislature have chosen to make it a condition of the right to run carriages impelled by the agency of fire, that the corporation employing them shall be responsible for all injuries which the fire may cause."
Upon facts very like those of that case, this court, at October term, 1875, sustained an action under a statute of Vermont, copied from the Massachusetts statute of 1837; and, speaking by Mr. Justice Strong, said: "The statute was designed to be a remedial one. In Massachusetts, there is a statute almost identical with that of Vermont"; and, referring to that case as directly in point, quoted the passage above cited from the opinion, ending with the words: "The legislature have chosen to make it a condition of the right to run carriages impelled by the agency of fire, that the corporation employing them shall be responsible for all injuries which the fire may cause.” Grand Trunk Railway v. Richardson, 91 U. S. 454, 456, 472.
Opinion of the Court.
The statute of Massachusetts, existing at the time of that decision and for thirty-five years before, and enforced in the Massachusetts cases, imposed a liability upon the railroad company, wholly independent of negligence on its part; and the terms in which this court referred to that statute, and quoted from one of those cases, show that no doubt of its constitutionality was entertained.
In Maine and in New Hampshire, statutes substantially like the statute of Massachusetts of 1840, making railroad corporations absolutely liable, without regard to negligence, for injuries to property by fire communicated from their locomotive engines, were enacted in 1842, and have been since continued in force, and their validity upheld by the highest courts of those States, as applied to corporations created either before or after their passage. Maine Stat. 1842, c. 9, § 5; Rev. Stat. of 1883, c. 51, § 64; Chapman v. Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad, 37 Maine, 92; Pratt v. Same, 42 Maine, 579; Stevens v. Same, 46 Maine, 95; Sherman v. Maine Central Railroad, 86 Maine, 422; N. H. Rev. Stat. of 1842, c. 142, §§ 8, 9; Gen. Stat. of 1867, c. 148, §§ 8, 9; Gen. Laws of 1878, c. 162, §§ 8, 9; Hookset v. Concord Railroad, 38 N. H. 242; Rowell v. Railroad, 57 N. H. 132; Smith v. Boston & Maine Railroad, 63 N. H. 25.
In Connecticut, before any legislation towards holding railroad corporations liable for property burned by sparks from their locomotive engines, they were held not to be so liable, if their use of such engines was with due care and skill, and in conformity with their charters. Burroughs v. Housatonic Railroad, 15 Conn. 124. The subsequent legislation upon the subject, and the reasons for it as stated by the Supreme Court of the State, were as follows: Experience demonstrated that in all cases of fire set by the operation of railroads it was extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible, to prove negligence even when it existed. This led to the passage in 1840, and to the reënactment in 1875, of a statute providing that, in all actions for any injury occasioned by fire communicated by any railway locomotive engine in the State, proof that such fire was so communicated should be prima facie
Opinion of the Court.
evidence of negligence. Conn. Stat. 1840, c. 26; Gen. Stat. of 1875, tit. 19, c. 11, § 29. Even then, the difficulty was but partially removed, for in most cases the defendant could easily produce evidence of due care, and the plaintiff would be ill prepared to meet it. Therefore, in 1881, the legislature took the broad, equitable ground that upon proof of the fact that the locomotive engine communicated fire to and destroyed property the company should be liable, independently of the question of negligence; and accordingly enacted another statute, in the words of the Massachusetts statute of 1840, before mentioned, imposing an absolute liability, qualified only by the insertion of the words, "without contributory negligence on the part of the person or corporation entitled to the care and possession of the property injured." Conn. Stat. 1881, c. 92. The statutes of 1875 and 1881 were both reënacted in the Revised Statutes of 1888, § 1096, 3581. Martin v. New York & New England Railroad, 62 Conn. 331, 339. The provisions of the statute of 1881 have been repeatedly upheld and enforced. Simmonds v. New York & New England Railroad, 52 Conn. 264; Grissell v. Housatonic Railroad, 54 Conn. 447; Regan v. New York & New England Railroad, 60 Conn. 124; Martin v. Same, above cited.
In Grissell v. Housatonic Railroad, the validity of that statute was strongly assailed upon all the grounds taken by the plaintiff in error in the present case; and the court, in the course of a well-considered opinion, said: "It is a mistake to suppose that it necessarily transcends the limits of valid legislation, or violates the principle of a just equality before the law, if the one using extrahazardous materials or instrumentalities, which put in jeopardy a neighbor's property, is made to bear the risk and pay the loss thereby occasioned, if there is no fault on the part of the owner of the property, even though negligence in the other party cannot be proved." The court referred to early statutes of Connecticut, which required no proof of negligence in two classes of actions of tort; the one, making the owner of a dog, or, if the owner was a minor or an apprentice, his parent, guardian or master, liable for all damage done by the dog; Conn. Stat. of 1789, Acts and