Page images


* *




I made up my

Congress and Congress itself with the consideration of tort liability claims and with injuries to claimants.

Congressman Ross A. Collins, of Mississippi, testifying before a subcommittee of the House Claims Committee on H. Ř. 5065, a general tort bill, said (hearing on a general tort bill, 72d Cong., 1st sess., February 15, 1932, pp. 6–8):

After I had done such work for a while mind that Congress was wasting its time in playing around with these comparatively minor private bills, and that the consideration given to them by the individual membership was trifling.

I will say that I used every resource at my command in my attempted investigation of these bills. I asked the General Accounting Office to give me whatever data it had on them; I submitted them to various clerks of the various subcommittees of the Committee on Appropriations; and, wherever I felt it necessary, I used the services of the law librarian of the Library of Congress. But private claims can be best considered and their merits determined by some agency other than the Congress. There is scarcely a Member of Congress who has not one or more of these private bills. All Members are interested in their own claim bills and therefore there is no disposition on the part of any. Member to object to the claim bill of another Member; and the bills are consequently passed, as we all know, by unanimous consent.

I have known some bills on the Private Calendar that were perfectly awful. It was inconceivable that a committee should pass them out except for the fact that the entire membership of the committee were unable to consider them, and they had to be considered by subcommittees consisting usually of one member. This one member of a subcommittee could not possibly spare the time to thoroughly investigate such claims and attend to his other legislative duties. In other words, about one-third of the bills in Congress are claims bills, and, because of the large number of these bills, it is necessary for the Committee on Claims in the consideration of them to appoint a subcommittee or subcommittees of one member, with a result that we get the individual judgment of one man and only one man, because it is impossible for the entire committee, unless it is a very important claim, to give anything more than casual consideration to these claims bills.

I do not want to appear in the attitude of reflecting on any committee, but the result has come about as the result of the failure of Congress to provide a proper system for the investigation and adjudication of these claims by the proper agencies equipped for the purpose, leaving the Members free to deal with larger problems with general supervision over the private claims bills.

[blocks in formation]

I do not think that this is a subject about which the Congress should be very jealous or which should raise any political differences. I think Congress should form policies and pass laws and do the bigger things, preserving the time and energy of its Members for this more important work, while the small private claims, whether of contract or tort, involve, ultimately, the appropriation of large sums of money in the aggregate it seems to me that an agency that is equipped to do this work can do it very much better, and I think, in the end, there will be a substantial saving to the Government in the actual amount appropriated.

The Committee on the Judiciary, favorably reporting H. R. 7236 on June 7, 1940, said (H. Rept. No. 2428, 76th Cong., 3d sess.):

For many years the present system has been subjected to criticism, both as being unduly burdensome to the Congress and as being unjust to the claimants, in that it does not accord to injured parties a recovery as a matter of right, but bases any award that may be made on considerations of grace. Moreover, it does not afford a well-defined continually operating machinery for the consideration of such claims.

[blocks in formation]

The existing exemption in respect to common law torts appears incongruous. Its only justification seems to be historical. With the expansion of governmental activities in recent years, it becomes especially important to grant to private individuals the right to sue the Government in respect to such torts as negligence in the operation of vehicles.


During the debates on H. R. 7236, which passed the House on September 12, 1940, the following statements were made by Congressmen:

Mr. SABATH. Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Michener) states that this legislation may create litigation against the Government. I say to him that even if it will permit the filing of a few additional suits the cost to the Government will not be as great as having the 435 Members of Congress, or even a committee of the House, sit to hear the evidence in these cases when they can be heard by a judge of a district court or the Court of Claims (86 Congressional Record, 18209).

Mr. CELLER. You can appreciate the immensity of the work involved in passing upon 2,300 claims, or thereabouts, which come to every Congress. It is utterly impossible for any of us to know all the details and important factors of each and every one of those bills; yet it is our duty to know those factors and to know all about those bills so that we can pass upon them intelligently, but we cannot under the circumstances carry on properly. We cannot do our duty in that regard (ibid. 18212).

Mr. Vorys. Mr. Chairman, I think this is a tremendously important piece of legislation, something that has been needed for inany years. By this law a citizen is given the right. to file his claim for damages against the Government. He no longer needs to depend upon getting some Member to introduce a bill, press it before the committee, argue it on the floor, coax it through the Senate, and then, in most cases, have it vetoed. The present system makes Congress attempt to perform a judicial function for which no judicial machinery is provided, and makes justice for the individual a matter of political favor instead of independent right (ibid. 18216). Mr. ROBSION. *

I favor this measure because of the generally interminable delays in getting relief in Congress on a special bill. Furthermore, only a very few of our citizens who are entitled to relief are able to get relief by special acts of Congress.



There are many meritorious cases like that long delayed. I know of other meritorious claims that have been pending for several years. Sometimes some of these bills pass the House and fail to pass the Senate. Other bills pass the Senate and fail to pass the House during a Congress, and when a new Congress meets the bills must be reintroduced and start all over again.

Hundreds of meritorious bills for damage to personal property and death and personal injury to citizens, due to the negligence of the Government and its agents, will not be considered by this Congress and these bills will die when this Congress ends January 3, 1941.

There are meritorious claims of hundreds of citizens whose property has been damaged or the lives of the members of their families have been taken or have received personal injuries through and by the negligence of the Government and its agents but for whom no special bills have been introduced.

[blocks in formation]

These claims by special bills before Congress are acted upon in an ex parte proceeding, with no cross-examination of the witnesses. The department whose agent committed the injury has some inspector from that department to investigate and secure statements against the citizen and his claim. These persons are not cross-examined. Perhaps if they were they would be forced to admit that they committed acts of negligence and they would be forced to admit the justice of the claim. You proceed here in Congress on ex parte statements and affidavits. Many of these persons who make the statements exonerating themselves and the Government are not sworn. This bill requires both sides to come into an impartial court and, before an impartial judge and an honest jury, give their testimony and have the case decided on its merits. What could be fairer? (ibid., 18217, 18218).

Mr. LUCE. Gentlemen who have done me the honor to read my writings on the science of legislation, which were the result of an avocation of many years, will find my chapter on claims exhausting my vocabulary in condemning the action of Congress in not yet meeting fully this particular problem. The waste of congressional time, the inequity of the proceedings, the subjection to accident and chance, condemn us in the eyes of all thinking persons. The result of my study was my belief that there is nothing so disgraceful in the conduct of the Congress of the United States as its treatment of claims. It brings on the floor of the House something that ought never to come within its walls; that is, the dispensing of equity. However, steps have been taken in the course of 75 years, little by little, to free ourselves from this encumbrance. The creation of the Court of Claims, and the expansion of its activities, have been a credit to the Congressmen who have fought again and again to get rid of our outrageous treatment of those who suffer at the hands of the Government. Nobody has ever risen here, to my knowledge, to complain of the result of any step that has been taken.

Always it is accepted as a wise finality. Always it has accrued to the honor of the Congresses that have taken the steps.

See also Senate Report No. 1699, Seventieth Congress, second session, page 4 (concerning H. R. 9285); Senate Report No. 658, Seventy-second Congress, first session, page 3 (concerning H. R. 5065); Keifer & Keifer v. R. F. C. (306 U. S. 381, 397).




In the Sixty-eighth Congress 2,200 private claim bills were introduced, of which 250 became law, then the largest number in the history of the Claims Committee,

In the Seventieth Congress 2,268 private claim bills were introduced, asking more than $100,000,000. Of these, 336 were enacted, appropriating about $2,830,000, of which 144, in the amount of $562,000, were for tort.

In each of the Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth Congresses over 2,300 private claim bills were introduced, seeking more than $100,000,000. In the Seventy-sixth Congress 1,763 bills were introduced, of which 315 were approved, for a total of $826,000.

In the first month of the present Congress more than 300 private tort claim bills were introduced, asking almost $2,500,000.

1 Figures are in round numbers.





There are herein set forth, in parallel columns, the comparable provisions of the present bill and of H. R. 5373, introduced by Mr. Celler, of New York, on July 21, 1941 (and virtually identical with H. R. 7236, 76th Cong.). The important differences between the two bills are explained in the “Comments” following the sections of the bills compared.


Be it enacted etc., That this Act may be cited as the "Federal Tort Claims Act."


GRESS (AND H. R. 7236, 76TH CONG., PASSED THE HOUSE SEPT. 12, 1940, SUBSTANTIALLY IDENTICAL WITH H. R. 5373) Sec. 312. This Act may be cited as the "Federal Tort Claims Act."


SEC. 101. As used in this Act, the term

“Federal agency” includes the executive departments and independent establishments of the United States, and corporations whose primary function is to act as and while acting as instrumentalities or agencies of the United States, whether or not authorized to sue and be sued in their own names: Provided, That this shall not be construed to include any contractor with the United States.

“Employee of the Government” includes officers or employees of any Federal agency, members of the military or naval forces of the United States, and persons acting on behalf of a Federal agency in an official capacity, temporarily or permanently in the service of the United States, whether with or without compensation.

“Acting within the scope of his office or employment,” in the case of a member of the military or naval forces of the United States, means acting in line of duty.

COMMENTS (i) H. R. 5373 would confer the power of administrative adjustment of tort claims upon the heads of the departments and independent establishments. The present bill would confer such power upon


« PreviousContinue »